Theatre losses ‘not as bad’ as feared...

MR Mulvagh (Letters, March 8) holds the council’s theatres working group responsible for a loss of more than £300,000 since late November.

The issue of theatres subsidy is not new and the situation has not deteriorated as your readers have been led to believe.

While the budget for theatres amounts to almost £1.2million per annum, he does not understand the content of this budget.

Over the past few months, having spent a lot of time looking at the issues, I have found the losses are not as bad as first feared.

Within the budget, there are £283,120 of “capital charges” which are added back in later on.

There are also £294,400 of “support charges” which represent a share of the council’s running costs.

If the venues were closed or outsourced, most of these charges would have to be absorbed by other council departments.

This leaves an operating subsidy of £621,000 per annum.

While this is still a great deal of money, the subsidy has fallen by £75,000 over the past year.

Worthing is no different from many other councils which see community benefits in supporting the arts.

How many more town centre shops would be boarded up if we removed 350,000 annual theatregoers from the local economy?

The council did seek external expressions of interest as it believed external management might allow the theatres to run with a much smaller subsidy.

None of the bids submitted produced the savings required.

If, as Mr Mulvagh suggests, the council’s management team are doing such a terrible job, it begs the question as to why the 17 external bids were not more attractive.

We are trying our very best to find a way of saving the theatres while significantly reducing the subsidy required.

To achieve that, we need a grown-up debate working in partnership with the staff running the theatres rather than demoralising them with political point scoring.

We also need to allow time for the plans to be implemented.

Comment has been made on the time taken to prepare a revised business plan.

The council allowed additional time for this as we were aware that the pantomimes are always very busy, with around one sixth of annual seat sales over the Xmas and New Year period.

The managers have also been busy dealing with the termination of the external catering contract, which has seen a number of challenging issues.

David Mulvagh is well known to me as a political activist.

I am disappointed that, despite the cross-party nature of the theatres working group, there appears to be a split of opinion within Worthing Liberal Democrats, with some wishing to save the theatres and others apparently keen to make mischief in the run-up to local elections.

Councillor Paul Yallop

Leader,

Worthing Borough Council