Fringe Box



Letter: Don’t Target Community Assets We Should Support and Cherish

Published on: 13 Nov, 2015
Updated on: 13 Nov, 2015

The seaside's coming to town - outside the Electric Theatre.From Gordon Bridger

Hon alderman and former mayor of Guildford

It is of great concern that we hear that the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) may acquire the Electric Theatre when there has been no public consultation and no opportunity  for any other interested parties to compete for it.

Surely it is contrary to financial regulations and the principles of good management that  public property is disposed of in this fashion?

New councillors and indeed many new staff will not be aware of how it was that amateur  thespians – and the Guildford Amateur Theatre Association (GATA), were largely responsible for the old electricity building being converted into a theatre. To eject them from this theatre would be a betrayal of all they and the community have worked for over many years.

We are entitled to be worried. We have a history of the council handing over community facilities to private companies who are, understandably, driven by commercial objectives and we then find that voluntary groups are squeezed out.

We once had a Civic Hall well used by the community but now, after spending £26m on rebuilding it and subsidising it to the tune of £400,000 per year, community use has become rare.

We nearly lost Guildford House which was going to be privatised but was saved by a massive protest. And we have a Guildhall, a fabulous  site for community use but only used  on average once a week by voluntary groups as the 50 per cent discount is beyond their reach. What a waste of a beautiful community property.

And more recently the Surrey Archaeological Society, who for over 100 years has built up at least half of our museum collection, and who occupied two rooms in the museum, have had their contract cancelled and may move to Woking. Why?

What is our council up to? Will it be the Yvonne Arnaud next? We should be supporting and cherishing voluntary effort – not penalising it.

We are one of the wealthiest communities in the country and the net council cost per inhabitant is only £69 per annum. The average Council Tax, per head, is well under one per cent of average income, so let us not hear the cry “we cannot afford it”.

The more substantial reason is that we have a forecast deficit of £500,000 as the government does not allow us, at present, to exceed a two per cent increase of Council Tax (a restriction bound to be abandoned when the new arrangement for allowing councils to keep business rates comes in).

These forecasts need to be reviewed carefully as they are always pessimistic and we inevitably end up with a budget underspend of between £1 and 2m at the end of the year.

Anyway, why pick on valuable community activities as cost savers? The amounts saved are trivial.

Those responsible for financial planning should target bigger spenders and earners than those which generate great community benefits at minimum cost.

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Responses to Letter: Don’t Target Community Assets We Should Support and Cherish

  1. Pauline Surrey Reply

    November 13, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with all the points Gordon has raised here. We cannot lose this very valuable and flexible, multi-use venue. It is a place for the community, and we have few enough of those as it is.

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