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Decision To Close Guildford Philharmonic ‘Was Taken Two Years Ago’

Published on: 21 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 23 Sep, 2012

The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra

A decision to close the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO) was taken behind the scenes two years ago, a follower of the orchestra claimed last night (20 Sep).

Julian Lyon, a member of the public, addressed the Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee. He said that although a report had been presented by the Chief Executive David Hill in April, indicating that the committee would be able to influence the decision on the future of the GPO: “Jim Miles [ex Strategic Director of GBC who was suspended and then resigned in April] was instructed to ‘close the Philharmonic by Summer 2012.'”

He continued: “The staff were aware because, a couple of years ago, Jim Miles told them of the imminent closure.  And I know this because I was given the background information in January 2012 at a meeting held here at the Council under Chatham House rules.*” It is believed to be the first time that this meeting has been publicly reported.

Members of the cross party committee, chaired by Councillor Tony Phillips (Lib Dem, Onslow), were visibly annoyed when it became clear that for a second quarterly meeting in a row they were not being presented with information that would allow them to make a recommendation to go before the Executive in November.

Now the future of the GPO and the jobs of a number of council officers remains uncertain.

Mr Lyon during his address had also questioned the accuracy of  figures contained in Chief Executive Hill’s April report, relating to the amount of subsidy that had been given to the orchestra. Mr Hill had claimed that each individual attendance at a GPO orchestra was subsidised by nearly £50.

But revenue from some concerts had not been included, Mr Lyon claimed. He said: “A rough calculation suggests that the actual or real subsidy is therefore less than £10 per head and falling – not the £46 per ticket mischievously quoted to you, uncorrected in the supporting documents.”

The committee were expecting a report of assessed bids made by organisations that had been invited in June to express an interest in taking over the running of the orchestra. Instead the report presented by Interim Strategic Director Peter Lipman, understood to be knowledgeable in the provision of music, comprised mainly of a summary of the issue background.

Mr Lipman said he would be making three recommendations to the Executive based on his consultations and previous reports. They were:

  1. the council should cease providing the GPO service directly
  2. the provision of classical music from 1st April 2012 should be by grant aid
  3. the bids should be evaluated by a panel comprising: the portfolio holder [Cllr Jen Powell (Con, Clandon & Horsley)]; a consultant: and himself, against a set of agreed criteria.

Councillor Richard Billington (Con, Tillingbourne), confessing that he was not a great music lover, wanted his colleagues to remember the council’s financial situation when considering the future of the GPO. He said: “We haven’t got the money. It’s that blunt. We would all like to see it carry on fully funded. We are all in favour of motherhood and apple pie. But we are where we are and we haven’t got the money.”

Developing his ward colleagues theme Cllr David Wright (Con, Tillingbourne) said: “There is no doubt about it, times are tough. There are, as yet, no cut backs to major services for people across the borough. One has to recognise, when providing any public service, that there is a time when certain services cease to have the same impact and value for money. We should keep that in mind.”

But following a proposal from Cllr Nikki Nelson-Smith (Con, Christchurch) it was agreed that an annual subsidy in the region of £50,000, to be paid for two or three years, to allow transition by the GPO to financial independence, could be part of a solution

Monika Juneja (Con, Burpham) asked that a note be sent to the Executive that the Scrutiny Committee was dissatisfied. She said: “We are not happy with this report and we do not feel that we have been able to do anything with it.”

Cllr. Phillips, committee chairman, said: “I am extremely annoyed that, despite twice promising that a full report on options available to provide classical music in the borough would come to my committee, Council Officers and Lead Members have reneged on their promises and last night, yet again, this full report was missing.

“In view of this the committee accepted my suggestion of an extra meeting to enable members to scrutinise the options available and make recommendations prior to the Executive Committee meeting scheduled for 8th November.”

Because of the limited sight the Scrutiny Committee has had of proposals, two committee members, Cllr Phillips and Cllr Nelson-Smith will work with Cllr Jen Powell, Mr Lipman once a decision is made by the GBC Executive at their November meeting.

*When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. (Source: Wikipedia)

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Responses to Decision To Close Guildford Philharmonic ‘Was Taken Two Years Ago’

  1. Julian D S Lyon

    September 22, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Just a small point of clarification:

    The £10 was achieved by dividing the proposed net annual savings (£98,500) by the total of around 10,000 tickets sold in 2011-12

    The £46 was achieved by dividing £190,000 ‘subsidy’ by around 4,100 seats sold at GBC-sponsored concerts.

    A fairer number is probably £19 per seat (£190,000/10,000).

    If you assume that the £41,000 of internal ‘rebills’ that will have to be absorbed by other departments should be deducted to arrive at the true subsidy, this would show £149,000/10,000 or £14.90 per seat.

    All reasonable analysis shows the £46 was a banner headline designed to provoke outrage.

    I would personally prefer it if were were given the chance to get the figure down to zero. But I do believe all the people we elected should be allowed a say in the matter!

  2. Caroline Reeves

    September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I was surprised to learn at the scrutiny meeting on Thursday that whereas orchestras from outside Guildford are paid to play at GLive, the Guildford Philharmonic had to pay for the privilege. I don’t know how many other committee members were aware of this, or if I hadn’t read the meeting papers properly, but given the GPO had previously had their residency at the Civic Hall, this seems grossly unfair and would account for a fall in income. I was pleased that there was cross party support for Councillors to be as involved as possible in ensuring that there will be provision for music (and other arts programmes) in the future but that doesn’t alter the fact that the situation with the Guildford Philharmonic does not reflect well on the past workings of the Council.

  3. Bernard Parke

    September 24, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Do these councillors actually listen to the people of Guildford or is it just a case of nanny knows best?

  4. Pauline Surrey

    September 25, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Unfortunately I was unable to attend the recent meeting. But what a shambles! How not to run a Borough Council. Time for a new Chief Executive?