HAVING worked both in the public and private theatre sector for 30 years or so, I hope that I can make a contribution to the debate.
My most recent experience was within one of the theatre groups that no doubt expressed an interest in the Worthing venues.
I know the kind of arrangements that are currently offered by the private sector, and I am not surprised that the financial benefits were not particularly attractive.
Most operators require a management fee, which when added to the landlord costs – which the council would remain liable for – would give the local taxpayers an annual cost nearer to £1 million than £½ million.
The decision to keep all three venues open is largely political and I am sure that the electorate will decide whether it is a luxury that it can afford.
The new “business plan”, as briefly described in the Herald, makes sense as far as it goes, and if properly implemented could achieve the kind of savings indicated.
The catering operation should be encouraged to create events for the Assembly Hall and operate a pricing policy comparable with the private sector, and I’m sorry if that means popcorn at Cineworld prices.
In my opinion, those responsible for programming are doing a pretty good job, and the offer is very much on a par with venues of a similar size irrespective of the ownership model.
Marketing needs to get into the digital age, but that may be part of the new box office package. Undoubtedly, there are savings that a private operator would extract to improve profitability, but these may not be available to the current team because of union agreements and council standing orders.
An industry-wide problem is there is not enough quality/relevant product available, and perhaps this is where the Trust could galvanise the support it has attracted and act as a creative hub for local talent, ideas and projects, which may qualify for Arts Council or other support and provide additional programming opportunities.
As there are no irreversible decisions being suggested at this stage, and those which are being implemented are all moving towards current practices in the private sector, I suggest the decision to retain theatre operation in house be kept under review.
What is missing at the moment is a clear vision of the future.