Fringe Box



GBC Scrutiny Committee Is the Right Forum for Decision on Orchestra

Published on: 2 May, 2012
Updated on: 4 May, 2012

From Gordon Bridger

Hon Alderman

Congratulations to Guildford Borough Council for putting the issue of the future of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO) to its Scrutiny Committee for review. This is just the right forum as it is their responsibility to interview expert and concerned witnesses and recommend the best solution to the council.

When Cllr. Tony Phillips, its Chairman, contacted me and asked if I would provide an economists view on the GPO I agreed. I then contacted Julian Lyon (also to be a witness) and was taken aback to discover that he, and other potential witnesses, had been contacted by the GBC Chief Executive who had sought to persuade them not to appear, as he claimed that he thought that their interest would prejudice any involvement in future discussions or solutions. Mr. Lyon had robustly rejected this approach but others withdrew. The Chief Executive did not, very wisely, approach me on the matter.

I was surprised, on attending the meeting when the CE claimed that no decision had yet been made about the future of the GPO.

I think it might be helpful if I explained my surprise for those  interested in this complex saga. As a background there was a consultants report. One of the recommendations in the report was that the GPO be closed.

Then, as many will recall, when G Live was officially opened the honour of doing so went to the very expensive London Symphony Orchestra rather than the GPO.  This despite assurances from the Council and indeed the operators themselves, that G Live would be the main venue for the GPO, including a number of co-productions. This has not happened and instead a number of touring orchestras have been brought in who do not have to pay to hire the building (which GPO would have to do).

Added to these decisions GPO was not allowed to make any more new commitments until its future was clear. Finally the consultants’ report, which was submitted to the Scrutiny Committee by council officers, stated that only 4000 tickets were sold per year and therefore the subsidy per seat was an understandably unacceptable £45.

This report is however highly misleading. In part because it omitted at least 2000 seats sold at South East Music Trust assisted concerts, but more important because of the small number of limited venues in which it had to operate because of council restrictions.

With this history, claims that no decisions have been made about its future are not convincing.

I think I am right in saying that traditionally the GPO put on around 14 concerts per year, some in large venues. Its per capita subsidy was at one time around £16 per seat. It is inevitable that in the current situation the per capita subsidy is going to be high.

Fortunately the Scrutiny Committee, under a very experienced councillor, has the power to call expert witnesses and I would urge them to do so and insist that a proper business plan be presented to them giving more accurate financial data for the GPO’s normal number of concerts. The committee should also obtain from G Live comparative data about attendances and subsidies, for their classical concerts as indirectly they are being subsidized by the council.

They should also seek data of subsidies paid to other Council artistic and leisure facilities in order to put the GPO subsidy into perspective.

I have no special expertise in music nor do I believe that we should support the GPO regardless of cost. It is the task of public servants to provide elected representatives with facts efficiently and objectively so they can then decide what action to take. Alas, in my opinion, this has not been the case.

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