THE SRU Board are to launch an externally assisted review into the use of settlement (also known as non-disclosure) agreements for departing staff on 14 occasions in the last seven years.
The governing body have come under increasing pressure to look into this issue during the eight weeks since a humiliating employment tribunal judgement found them guilty of unfairly dismissing former Director of Domestic Rugby Keith Russell, and heavily criticised the withholding of Russell’s statutory entitlement in notice period and accrued holiday pay whilst trying to negotiate a compromise settlement.
An internal review into the Russell affair has been ongoing but has not reported any of its findings publicly yet – with Colin Grassie, the SRU Board Chairman, stating at yesterday’s AGM that he expects that process to conclude in early September, approximately 13-weeks after the judgement was first issued.
The financial statements for Scottish Rugby Union Limited were lodged at Companies House on Thursday, revealing that the salary of the highest paid executive in the organisation has dropped from £563k per annum in the 2017 accounts to £455k this year. The total renumeration for the SRU’s four executive directors – Chief Executive Mark Dodson, Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay, General Counsel Robert Howat and Finance Director Andrew Healy – was £990k this year as opposed to £1,137k in the 2017 accounts.
“The Board, as part of its current deliberations, is reviewing – with the help of external, independent experts – settlement agreements as a whole used within Scottish Rugby,” said Grassie.
“Settlement agreements are an accepted and legitimate tool used within any business environment, particularly when the leaving individual possesses commercially sensitive information. I fully acknowledge we’re also a governing body, not just a business, therefore we will consider their applicability going forward.
“Since September 2011, there have been 14 settlements concluded for non-playing staff. Every single one of these is being reviewed by independent experts appointed by the Board.
“The total number of employees who have left the business during that same period is over 600, including players and coaches.
“For context, settlement agreements are very much deployed by exception by Scottish Rugby, which is a governing body but also a commercial organisation with sensitive, competitor-relevant information in use and available every day.”
This may well be the case, but it was disingenuous to equate the 14 settlement agreements signed by non-playing staff since 2011 with the 600 members of staff including players and coaches who have left the business during that same period. Players and coaches have a far greater turnover rate than other departments. To give accurate context, Grassie should have disclosed the number of non-playing staff to have left the organisation, or included playing staff in his total of NDAs signed.
“The Board will take a clear position on settlement agreements going forward,” Grassie continued. “The Board will conclude its business as quickly as possible. Allow me to assure you, a lot has already been done and a lot will be done by early September. By then, we expect to be in a position to meet as a full Board and conclude on Ms Thomson’s report with other elements having been considered, such as settlement agreements.
“The Board is absolutely committed to conducting this review thoroughly. It is our duty to our stakeholders and it will be done.
“It is our intention to conclude these matters in early September, when we will share these [findings] with the Council, and make a public statement thereafter.”
Grassie also apologised on behalf of the Board for the furore caused by the Russell affair, as did outgoing President Rob Flockhart.
“Our staff, our volunteers, our clubs and all of you here are due an apology for the negative attention drawn to the Union that we’re all so proud of,” said Grassie. “We owe you an apology. There is no question whatsoever that there are things we could and should have done better, and as I have said, we will get to the bottom of all of that.
“As a Board and management team, we are working very hard to ensure this never happens again. We are not proud of this episode. This is a matter that we have and are taking extremely seriously, and we fully understand the concerns raised. We owe you, our stakeholders, clarity on a number of points.”
Flockhart stated: “I want to reassure you [the delegates at the meeting] that through Council and Board we will learn the lessons from the tribunal findings; we will implement recommendations from the review undertaken by Lesley Thomson, Scotland’s former solicitor general; and I want to take this opportunity today to apologise to you all for the manner in which these matters have transpired. We must do better in this regard.”
It was also announced yesterday that a review into the organisation’s governance structure is to be launched, as recommended by David Johnston on this website last Sunday, with the aim of updating the constitution to suit the demands of modern, professional rugby.
“Over the last year, the Board has formed a very clear view that the governance structure flowing from the Dunlop Report commissioned 13 years ago needs to be updated to reflect the modern game and the organisation that we have now collectively become,” explained Grassie. “In keeping with the recent recommendation of our governance working party, the Board and Council are fully supporting an independent review of the governance of Scottish Rugby, and we look forward to working with you [the clubs] to bring that to fruition.”
“The Board and Council will meet next month to have a thorough discussion on governance, and we aim to map out the next steps with Mr McColl which we will then bring to member clubs for their input, comment and approval.”
In a break with convention, no members of last year’s Board were available to speak to the press after the AGM.