RUAS ready for ‘exciting future’

THE Royal Ulster Agricultural Society has reported ‘sound financial health’ but members have been told that the current situation is not sustainable.

Addressing the society’s annual general meeting, RUAS Finance Committee chairman John Bamber said that the RUAS was ready for an ‘exciting future’ and believed the province would benefit from a new centre of rural excellence - with the society best placed to start the process.

In his report on the financial year to October 31, 2011, Mr Bamber said: “Each of the elements of our business has performed well and the society currently enjoys sound financial health.

“But the council has acknowledged that the current situation is not sustainable.

“We are now ready for an exciting future and believe that the province would benefit from a centre of rural excellence and the society is best placed to start this process.”

The RUAS is also advancing ‘two separate but related’ decision making processes - the future plans for the King’s Hall complex and a potential move to the former Maze prison site for Balmoral Show.

Mr Bamber reported that huge strides have been made to overcome a number of obstacles, however the final decision from Government was still needed.

A decision on the Maze site is expected to be announced by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) in the coming weeks which could see Balmoral Show relocate to a significantly bigger venue.

Once a Government announcement is made the RUAS can then take the matter formally to its membership who will have the final say on any such plans. It is understood that a clear majority is required from the membership of almost 3,000.

Mr Bamber continued: “They (the members) will need to be satisifed that the exciting vision for the King’s Hall presently being discussed in council will indeed deliver sustainable enabling finance to go forward.

“The society will need to have their input into the plans proposed by council to pump prime a centre of rural excellence. They will need to be absolutely certain that they are doing right by those future generations of members who will inherit this great society.”

He added: “We have a talented and committed staff, a dedicated council and a membership willing to embrace change for the long-term future of this society.”

Mr Bamber told the meeting that the society had returned a deficit of almost £25,000, which has been put down to the impact of biennial exhibitions at the King’s Hall.

However the society’s liquid assets - which are made up of deposits and investments - have increased by almost £44,000 to more than £4.1million which would be available for the delivery of a new facility at the Maze, should members give a move their approval.

Mr Bamber said: “In the current financial climate the society has maintained its financial position during the year. In a difficult financial climate the society has returned a deficit of £24,536, after adjusting for the gain on investments. This is a deterioration of £68,557 on the previous year and reflects the impact of biennial exhibitions. This deficit is after a charge for depreciation of £472,522.

“The total of liquid assets to the society is £4,152,973 which represents an increase of £43,899 on the previous year. These moneys will be available for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society to deliver a new facility. It is of course the members who will decide on the future, will we move and develop new grounds or stay in the current location and reinvest?”

An overview of the accounts shows that the RUAS spent £1,945,933 on charitable activities which in turn generated a total of £1,496,672. Capital spending totalled £192,692 while renovation expenses stand at £33,452.

Reflecting on the success of last year’s Balmoral Show, Mr Bamber explained: “The incredibly high standard of livestock in every sector, the new food village and the business activity, it is satisfying to note that the event returned a contribution to overheads of £237,382.”

King’s Hall Exhibition and Conference Centre Ltd, of which the RUAS is the sole stakeholder, transferred funds totalling £302,647 to the society.

Mr Bamber reported that 2011 had been a ‘particularly challenging’ year for the company due to recessionary pressures.