A LETTER signed by 38 member clubs has been sent to Dee Bradbury, the President of the Scottish Rugby Union, calling on her to disband the Task Force which she set up in early March “to address the issues of Governance within Scottish Rugby”.
The Task Force was formed in the aftermath of the near unanimous rejection of the recommendations made by businessmen Sir Bill Gammell and his long time associate Norman Murray at the conclusion of their six month ‘Independent Corporate Governance and Business Review’.
Despite widespread anxiety throughout society as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, and the uncertainty this has created as to how the sport will look and operate in the future, the Task Force has pressed ahead with two conference call meetings last weekend. Given that Bradbury’s term in office is up at August’s AGM (if it goes ahead as scheduled), the target appears to be to have a motion ready to go by the end of May, so that it can make it onto the agenda for that meeting.
While the terms of reference have not yet been released, the signatories to this letter are understood to be concerned that the timescale for the review, and the lack of independent members on the Task Force, points towards a rebranded version of Gammell’s proposals being the inevitable outcome.
The letter states –
“These are challenging times both for our Union and its member clubs. Good governance is fundamental to the effective operation of the Union and following the unanimous rejection of the Gammell/Murray proposals by National and Regional League Forums, we feel it is imperative that any future review on governance is conducted in the most consultative and transparent manner with the appropriate amount of time taken to ensure that it is done correctly.
“You will be aware of the current lack of trust that now exists between the member clubs and the Board. This is damaging and in danger of paralysing the organisation. There is a need to return to first principles to revise the governance and, such a review must be driven by, and recognise the fundamental interests of the Union members.
“These matters cannot be responsibly concluded in the next two months and in time for this year’s AGM. To conduct a full governance review engaging with the Union members, followed by the necessary consultation period will take many months, even without the current Covid-19 crisis. Therefore, we urge you to consider the long-term interests and disband the Taskforce. Standing down the Taskforce will allow your successor to take matters forward at the earliest opportunity, whilst allowing for the time and effort that it so obviously requires. We look forward to your response in very early course given the anxiety this matter is undoubtedly causing.”
Some of the major concerns about the Gammell/Murray review include –
- The transfer of the shares in ‘Existing SRU Ltd’ (which owns Murrayfield) from the present Trustees to ‘New SRU Ltd’ — which though owned by the clubs by virtue of their collective guarantees is, likely to have an exposure on the dark side of opaque and to fall very firmly within the ambit of the Board of Directors.
- The removal of direct representation for clubs on any of the decision making or supervisory Boards in the new structure, leaving a vote of no confidence as the clubs’ only formalised control over those managing the game on their behalf.
- The failure to address the governance failings which provided the impetus of the review, and instead hand more power to those who were in the dock.
- The absence of a fixed financial commitment to the club/grassroots game.
The Offside Line understands that following the rejection of the Gammell/Murray review at various club forums and the ‘town hall meeting’ on 15th January, the Council agreed in early February that the proposals should be thrown out and a new review launched, which was to be spearheaded by Gavin MacColl QC as Independent Chair of the Council Standing Committee on Governance, tasked with coming up with recommendations for the 2021 AGM.
However, that plan was then shelved in mysterious circumstances in early March, when the Standing Committee on Governance was abruptly dissolved without explanation. It was announced that Bradbury, a retired police detective, would spearhead a new Task Force, which would aim to achieve in just over two months what Gammell and Murray couldn’t manage in half a year.
Bradbury is under no obligation to take on board the letter, but she will have to make some shrewd calculations before her next move. Does she believe that this letter represents a fringe group of vocal clubs, or is it indicative of a wider opposition to her approach? Does her desire to be the President who sees through a governance restructuring outweigh the risk of forcing a full-blown constitutional crisis during her final six months in office?