Talk of ‘Bath & West’ and what will spring to mind for most people is the wonderful four day Royal agricultural show which is held annually at the showground in Shepton Mallet.
Each year around 150,000 visitors attend the Royal Bath & West Show which is renowned for the quality and variety of its exhibitions, its food and drink, entertainment, innovation and its commitment to agriculture and rural life. In 2016, there were 31 different sections with approximately 600 trade stands ranging from horticulture and floral art to a safety zone, Imagineering, vintage vehicles as well as livestock and agricultural machinery.
The show also hosts and organises a range of competitions of national significance. These include the British Cheese Awards, the British Cider Championships, the National Summer Poultry Show and there are usually three breed societies at any one time hosting their national competition at Shepton Mallet. There is also international sheep shearing and horse shoeing and around 10,000 different types of competitive entries are processed ranging from a piece of art to a jar of honey to a truckle of cheese, a Hereford bull and horses that are qualifying for the Horse of the Year Show.
The show is organised and managed by PKF Francis Clark client, The Royal Bath & West of England Society and its trading subsidiaries, but what many people don’t realise is the show is only a part of a much wider remit which sees the registered charity delivering a wide range of educational and agriculturally related projects and activities.
One of the main objectives for Chief Executive Officer, Rupert Cox, is to address the public’s understanding of what the society does and how it spends its income.
He said: “The society, which was established in 1777, is now in a time of change. For its first 100 years it didn’t do shows but was dedicated to innovation in agriculture. We celebrated the 150th Show in 2013 and 2017 will be the 53rd Royal Bath & West Show at the showground in Shepton Mallet.
“When I joined in January 2015, I felt that it had forgotten why it was set up in the first place. So what we are trying to do is refocus our minds on what the society was set up to do and how it delivers those objectives for which the annual show is a key driver.
“Our aim is to get more people to be aware of our charitable activities and the impact and benefits they have. A key element of our business is our showground which is one of the premier outdoor event venues in the south west.
“Simply put, our business model is - the greater the trading margins we can make on our shows and our showground, the more direct charitable support we can provide to a range of individuals and organisations.”
Hosting events such as a home building exhibition, antiques fair or classic car show brings in around £1m for the society which goes towards managing the significant overheads (c.£400K each year on building maintenance alone) that accompany owning and managing a 240 acre site, income which puts less financial pressure on the show. As a whole the society turns over around £4m.
A new charity committee has been created to focus on the society’s charitable priorities and they have a budget to invest in young people wanting to go into agriculturally related education, young people wanting to travel on agriculturally related activities and in individuals who want to undertake agricultural research.
The society also run awards with annual prizes including a dairy industry award, a veterinary student award, a bi-annual art scholarship, an environmental youth award and a whole range of grants, scholarships and other charitable activities they “have forgotten to tell people about”.
Rupert Cox added: “We employ 21 full-time equivalents which significantly increases at show time especially through engaging contractors and the 400 or so volunteers who help us out. An added value is we work with a number of charitable groups, who volunteer their services in return for cash or kind. This makes our charitable reach much greater than people might imagine.
“Recent changes in charity regulation have had a positive effect on us in that it has made us refocus on our charitable activities. I don’t want the Bath & West Society to carry on doing what it has always done because it’s easy and comfortable. I want to question why we do what we do.
“The show has two purposes. One is delivering some of our charitable activities. It is delivering knowledge transfer between farmers. It is providing education to young people and indeed, their families, on where their food comes from. It is delivering the charitable objectives of agricultural excellence and innovation. Its other purpose is to create the margins that allow us to deliver other charitable projects throughout the year. The business must make money for us to do this.”
There are challenges ahead for The Royal Bath & West Society not least being the future of the agricultural sector as a whole and bio-security issues that affect the movement of animals. Nevertheless, Rupert Cox has identified what the society needs to do to ensure it can maintain and increase its charitable objectives.
These include: Improving the facilities at the showground, attracting more visitors and developing a more expansive programme of charitable activities. He is looking to establish “higher value events of a contemporary nature” that will attract a new audience and new market opportunities.
PKF Francis Clark partner Nick Farrant, said: “We were appointed as auditors to The Royal Bath & West of England Society in late 2015 following a competitive tender process. We provide statutory accounts, audit and corporation tax compliance for the charity (The Royal Bath & West of England Society) and its two trading subsidiaries, Bath & West Shows Limited, and Bath and West Enterprises Ltd.
“We worked closely with management, the treasurer, the audit committee and the chief executive as the financial statements saw the transition from “old” UK accounting standards to the “new FRS 102 accounting standards and Charities SORP 2015”. There were a number of significant changes required by these rule changes and the charity was one of the first in the region to have successfully adapted to them.
“In addition to financial reporting, my partner Stephanie Henshaw and I provided guidance on the content and structure of the narrative trustees report in the financial statements. We helped the trustees describe the strategy and performance of the group in the context of its charitable objectives.
“The Royal Bath & West Society is an institution and brand that we are very proud to be associated with particularly as we are committed to providing outstanding audit, accountancy, tax and advisory services to individuals and businesses across the show’s catchment area of Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.”
Rupert Cox added: “I was looking for greater innovation from our supplier base. What we liked about PKF Francis Clark is that they instantly understood our business and they also provided us with added value information that, possibly, we should have been told before and that helped us manage the finances of our business more effectively.
“I also like their ongoing support of our financial controller. They don’t behave like an auditor who just comes along and does the end of year accounts. They are more proactive and more creative. The personnel they have provided to look after our accounts are led by partner Nick Farrant and they are very obliging and polite. It can be quite stressful for those in the accounts department when auditors descend on your business but we feel that while the PKF Francis Clark team are thorough in their work, they are respectful of the staff and don’t unduly impinge on our operation while they are here and you can’t underestimate how important that is.
“Our financial controller gets invited to a number of PKF Francis Clark events and seminars on the changing nature of charities and charity law and they continuously make us aware of how it affects us.
“One of the first things they made us look at was our Annual Report that goes with audited accounts and they helped us with more narrative to explain what we are about and why we do it as well as the charitable impact we make.”
Nick Farrant commented: “It was good of Rupert to take time out of his enormously busy schedule to speak with us. His team are flat out not only preparing for the 2017 show and marketing the showground for year round events, they have no doubt already got an eye on 2018!”