Town's over-budget theatres could be transferred to trust

Worthing's theatres and museum could be taken over by a charitable trust as councillors seek to cut costs.

Wednesday, 7th September 2016, 9:34 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th September 2016, 2:58 pm
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The operations, subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of nearly £2million last year, have long come in over-budget.

Having the services run by a trust would still require public investment – but consultants estimate yearly savings could be around ten times the expected level if they continue to be run in-house.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Bob Smytherman welcomed the proposal, to be debated by cabinet members on Tuesday.

He said: “I am delighted that the Tories have taken my advice from the last council meeting to discuss setting up a leisure trust, however I remain concerned that our theatres will continue to be a burden on the taxpayer for some time given the very modest projected savings.”

Transferring operations to a trust could result in tax benefits, generate new income streams and open up new grant funding opportunities.

Overall savings could vary, depending on the deal struck between the council and trust.

Consultants Winkworth Sherwood estimate an annual saving of around £188,000 could be achieved in five years’ time.

By comparison, the council has currently budgeted an £18,000 in-house saving in 2018/19.

Explaining the decision to explore the trust option, a report to councillors read: “Worthing Theatres staff have helped to reduce an overall overspend from £484,000 in 2013/14 to £119,000 in 2015/16.

“Despite this, our ongoing ability to reduce our costs while growing our income has meant that delivering a service within our existing budget and overheads will continue to prove challenging and areas of the service such as catering have continued to under-perform.”

The council reports an improving picture in respect of the theatres’ performance.

In the past four years, ticket booking has increased by 26 per cent and revenues are up 43 per cent. Councillors have praised the improved offer.