Fringe Box



Letter: Shocked At Electric Theatre Consultation

Published on: 1 Feb, 2016
Updated on: 6 Feb, 2016

From Barbara Ford

I have just completed the so-called consultation opened last week by Guildford Borough Council on various options for the Electric Theatre, given of course the required cuts in public spending.

The Electric Theatre.

The Electric Theatre.

They say on their website: “We would like to get your views on what you want from The Electric Theatre in the future, and what you think our level of involvement should be. We are also consulting our Citizens’ Panel and stakeholders.”

The consultation seeks one’s views on four different models of involvement, balancing the community need against the financials – but does not mention that the property has already been put on the market and with no involvement (see Owen Shipp website).

The votes are not in but the result has been decided: where else do they do that kind of thing? – ah yes, North Korea.

I may be naive, but I’m shocked.

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Responses to Letter: Shocked At Electric Theatre Consultation

  1. Susan Parker Reply

    February 2, 2016 at 12:06 am

    There does seem to be a degree of premeditation, not to say predetermination, in the consultation process.

    I have questioned this before, and this, I suggest, was why I was persona non grata as a councillor on the working group determining the future of the Electric Theatre.

    Legally, the Electric Theatre is now an asset of community value and it cannot be sold without giving the community the opportunity to buy it first, thanks to the prompt action of the theatre community.

    However, there may be attempt to juggle the terms (selling via a short lease for example).

    This is why, despite this apparent distortion of the decision making process, it is vitally important that all concerned members of the public express their views.

    Councillors should know that the community care about it – so write in and express your views.

    The Executive (the 10 members of the ruling party appointed by the council leader) then can ignore the views expressed in the consultation but they must respect the asset of community value status and should be shamed into paying attention in their decision-making process.

    If the council had not agreed to spend £3.5 million on the council offices revamp, there would be more funds for council services, including the Electric Theatre.

    We should not squander funds on councillors or council luxuries in order to save funds on public services.

    Susan Parker (Guildford Greenbelt Group) is borough councillor for Send ward.

    • George Potter Reply

      February 2, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      In reply to Susan Parker:

      I believe the reason behind the revamp of the council offices was that conditions were unsafe for staff and that members of the public with mobility issues (such as those in wheelchairs) couldn’t access the council chambers to be able to view the decisions councillors made in their name as every member of the public should have the right to do.

      So I’m curious, why do you oppose the revamp? Is it because you don’t think council staff should work in adequate conditions? Or are you just simply not bothered whether people with disabilities are able to attend council sessions?

      If it’s neither of those then I do hope you’ll explain what your reasoning is and what alternative you’d propose.

      • George Dokimakis Reply

        February 4, 2016 at 8:20 am

        In reply to Mr Potter:

        I do not think that the revamp is the issue but the cost.

        The revamp was initially estimated a £250,000. The costs have ballooned well over 10 times the initial estimate which suggests of gross incompetence.

        This a matter that deserves scrutiny as the additional £2 million-plus in cost could have been used differently.

  2. Paul Spooner Reply

    February 2, 2016 at 8:39 am

    I can assure Barbara that she is not correct.

    As Leader of GBC (but not North Korea) the consultation is being taken very seriously by officers, lead members, Executive and leader.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    February 2, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Of course it is phoney. As proved by the sham consultations over the daft Local Plan, the GBC executive does not do consultation, it merely puts up a pretence of such, and cracks on with its famed ‘trajectory’ regardless.

    Until the executive really does listen to residents, rather than business interests, it does indeed deserve to be held up to ridicule alongside North Korea.

  4. George Potter Reply

    February 2, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    In fairness to GBC and Cllr Paul Spooner, it does seem that councillors on the working group on the Electric Theatre have done a lot behind the scenes to undo the damage done by the attempts by other councillors at steamrolling through a foregone conclusion last winter.

    Legally speaking, the advertisement for the Electric Theatre in December has been legally redefined as requests for expressions of interest (despite it being called a bidding process at the time) and so now the consultation will have to be followed by an actual bidding process starting from scratch.

    Anything else would be grossly illegal.

    It’s not surprising that many people think otherwise however when we consider how awful the Conservative administration has been at telling people about the multiple changes in the announced process compared to what they’ve previously said.

  5. Michael Bruton Reply

    February 2, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    I can assure Barbara Ford that she is quite correct about the pretend consultation over the Electric Theatre – and any other form of consultation by Guildford Tory Council.

    North Korea? Well maybe not quite. But give it time. Having been elected in 2011 and then again in 2015 on a promise to protect the Metropolitan green belt this council now intends to allow building all over it – increasing the borough population by 25% to 30%.

    But don’t blame me. I did not vote for this lot. They will achieve exactly what Labour’s John Prescott wanted and what Labour’s Lord Adonis wants. Namely the concreting over of much of the ‘green lung’ which surrounds London.

  6. Rob Porter Reply

    February 2, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    The problem with the Electric Theatre is that GBC is legally committed to supporting G-Live with a massive subsidy, as politically they were tied in with it after all the shenanigans of the old civic hall and the huge costs born by the town as result of the political infighting.

    Unlike Woking, where there is a professional theatre and a council supported community theatre both run by the same organisation.

    With G-live, the Electric and the Yvonne Arnaud in the town, GBC went down a completely different route by building G-Live and backing it solely through subsidy to ensure success, ignoring the long-term impact to the poor old Electric.

    As G-Live is solely council backed there is nothing left for the Electric Theatre and as a result, a wonderful community asset, originally envisaged as a centre for amateur dramatics, is left to whither on the vine, exposed to the political planning for “more competition in the cinema space”, “venue opportunists”, and “he who should not be named”.

    That leaves the people that care about our community’s long term breadth and drama entrepreneurs: people on both sides of the town’s political divide who care about social inclusion. The result is that those who should run it don’t have the commercial or political capital to fill the moral vacuum left by GBC’s in-bred inability to long-term plan anything in this town.

    Suffice to say, those who should run this venue will never be able to take it over and run it for what the founders built it for.

    Previous decisions and the resulting local and national economics will in the end prevail.

    Any allegiances that our elected decision makers may have to why it was created in the first place, and the huge effort that was made by all who helped and inspired its creation, will be overridden by economics and the die cast by what went before.

    Too little spread too far, ruled by the fight for the moral high ground on which party are the guardians of this town, rather than what ensures continuity of what were rich traditions in the community – great decision guys.

    In the last 10 years we’ve lost at least two amateur groups (gHosTs and GOC) due to the economics and lack of rehearsal/performance spaces. The Electric was founded to solve those issues.

    How many more will go to the wall because of GBC’s inability to serve effectively?

  7. C Stevens Reply

    February 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    People really should look at the figures here.

    Under the heading of “background” in the consultation document, we’re told that Guildford spends £32.19 per resident on “cultural services”.

    However, while we’re not told what these “cultural services” are, a bit of arithmetic leads to the conclusion that much more than the theatres must be included in the figure.

    The borough’s population is 141,009 so £32.19 per head gives us an annual spend of £4,539,079.

    We know from the Beckwith Report that £253,270 was spent in subsidising the Electric Theatre in 2014/15, about £388,000 in subsidy to G Live for the same period and £318,304 in subsidy to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre for 2012/2013, later years’ figures apparently being unavailable.

    If we round all of these figures up to the nearest £10,000 we have £260,000 spent on the Electric, £390,000 on G Live and £320,000 on the Yvonne Arnaud. That’s a total of £970,000. So it seems that more than £3,500,000 is being spent on “cultural services” elsewhere.

    Even allowing for the rough and ready basis of the calculation, that’s a big discrepancy.

    Does anyone know what other “cultural services” the borough was spending the money on and why that spend should be sacrosanct?

    • Janice Windle Reply

      February 5, 2016 at 9:51 am

      In reply to C Stevens:

      Thank you. I’m looking forward to the informed reply by GBC to your comment and figures, which are very concerning, quite apart from any discussion of the ridiculous pretences at consultation with which the council insults Guildford residents’ intelligence.

    • Claire Morris Reply

      February 8, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      In reply to C. Stevens:

      ‘Cultural and related services’ is a standard service classification.

      It is used by the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy to both whom the council reports significant amounts of data on both its budget and its actual expenditure each year, and which is then published on DCLG’s website along with the data for every council in the country.

      ‘Cultural and related services’ covers expenditure on cultural and heritage services such as art, museums, theatres and public entertainment as well as parks and open spaces, sports and recreation facilities and tourism.

      The £32.19 relates to the council’s 2015-16 total budgeted expenditure of £5.125 million on cultural and related services divided by the total number of residents as per the 2012-based sub-national population projections for 2015.

      I don’t wish to stray into any political comment, but in relation to other expenditure being sacrosanct, as far as I am aware no one has ever said it is.

      What has been said in various reports and consultations is that the council is undertaking a rolling programme of reviews of all its services.

      I hope that the above answers the question but if further information is required on the council’s expenditure then questions can always be asked either through the council’s customer contact centre or by sending in an FOI.

      • C Stevens Reply

        February 17, 2016 at 7:43 pm

        In replty to Claire Morris:

        Thank you, Claire Morris, this is very helpful. When we were told that £32.19 per resident is spent on “cultural services”, who knew that included sport, recreation facilities, parks, open spaces and tourism?

        But now we know the 2015/16 spend on cultural and related services comes out at £5,125,000, the £250,000 on the Electric Theatre – less than 5% of the total – starts to seem do-able.

        And the negative aspects of the Electric’s location identified by the Beckwith Report don’t seem to bother either Wetherspoons, who share the location, or the organisations queueing up to get their hands on the site.

        What could be improved overnight for minimal expenditure is the signage. Friary Passage announces that it leads to Riverside Walk but not to the Electric. On the other side of the river I don’t think there’s a single sign directing people over the bridge to the Electric forecourt. Why not?

        And if there is a rolling programme of reviews of all the council’s services, can I suggest people review the Electric Spring Brochure?

        To hand the Electric over to any purely commercial organisation would be, in my view at least, a shame. It’s a unique building, with great performance space which provides an extraordinarily varied mix of entertainment and so, by definition, is uniquely worth saving.

        Those who want to sell the family silver should remember that you can only sell it once.

  8. Geoff Davis Reply

    February 4, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I have been away, and just caught up with the article posted by Barbara Ford.

    Of course, the current Electric Theatre consultation is not at all “phoney”..

    Significant work has gone into the preparation of this proper process, and indeed everybody needs to have their say now.

    This is the opportunity for all viewpoints to be submitted, based on financial considerations and/or community value. The council will then consider all contributions carefully before making a final decision as to the proper way forward.

    Cllr Susan Parker always amazes me – she does not even seem to understand the basic and simple difference between a freehold sale (which has never been contemplated) or the grant of a new lease, subject to user safeguards.

    Cllr Geoff Davis, Holy Trinity

    Lead Member for Economic Development, Tourism and Heritage.

    (Chairman of the Cross-Party Working Group on the Yvonne Arnaud and Electric Theatres)

    • C Stevens Reply

      February 5, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      Could Cllr Davis please have a look at my reply (February 3) and give us his observations on the figures?

  9. Jules Cranwell Reply

    February 5, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Interesting that Cllr Davis should reveal that the consultation is not “ALL phoney”.

    Could he perhaps then let us know how much and which parts are, as suspected, phoney.

  10. Colin Cross Reply

    February 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    As a member of Guildford Borough Council’s cross-party group working on this issue, can I add to Paul
    Spooner’s list abov by including our working group among those who are taking this consultation very seriously.

    It has been unfortunate that our work was severely disrupted by the hiatus caused by the elections and the subsequent reshuffle that included a new chairman.

    However, that has been overcome and I am confident that we will arrive at a considered and correct conclusion to our work in the not too distant future.

    Colin Cross is a Lib Dem councillor for Guildford borough’s Lovelace ward.

  11. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    February 5, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Cllr Spooner forgot to mention the cross party group (of which GGG have been expelled, seems rather a contradiction in terms).

    As always with the Tories, other councillors don’t get a mention.

  12. Colin Cross Reply

    February 6, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Referring to the last comment, it is regrettable that Susan Parker of the Guildford Greenbelt Group is no longer part of the cross-party group examining this subject.

    Whilst I am not a party to the decision to remove Susan Parker from the group, I understand it was related to her inability to adhere to the confidentiality clause that we all have to sign up to when being involved in these matters.

    Whilst I see that she has a right to object in this way, it is not right to say she was in any way unfairly removed from this group.

    In many ways she is missed and it is regrettable she took the stance she did.

    Colin Cross is a Lib Dem Guildford Borough Councillor for the Lovelace ward

    • Anna-Marie Davis Reply

      February 8, 2016 at 1:07 am

      In response to Colin Cross:

      I would like to confirm that I responded to information published on this website, rather than attained by any other means.

      I agree that it is a shame Susan is no longer represented on this committee, but what saddens me more is the puerile cat fighting that characterises so much of the interaction between councillors of different parties, as opposed to genuine debate designed to further the real needs and wishes of Guildfordians, as evidenced below.

      I am not sure that I would easily abide by rules which were applied, if not designed, with opacity and a pro development agenda at their core.

  13. Geoff Davis Reply

    February 6, 2016 at 7:16 am

    A correction please for Anna-Maria Davis.

    GGG have not been “expelled” from the YA/ET Cross Party Working Group.

    David Reeve from GGG is a valuable member of the group.

    Caroline Reeves and Colin Cross from the Lib Dems make significant contributions, as does Angela Gunning from Labour.

    Is this enough “mention” for you Anna-Maria?

    We also have on the Group valuable Officer support, and an independent specialist theatre consultant.

    Please call me if there are any other questions about the ongoing work of this Group.

    Cllr Geoff Davis

  14. Gillian Fick Reply

    February 7, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    It is highly regrettable that the really significant points raised in this correspondence thread have been totally ignored by councillors who have gone on a not so merry jaunt down a one-way street with claim and counter claim.

    It’s a street marked ‘No entry unless you are a councillor’.

    In their rush to a dead end in the cul-de-sac, they have chosen to completely ignore the detailed financial questions raised by C. Stevens above, and sailed straight past the excellent points made. by Rob Porter.

    I heard them singing a chorus of ‘please don’t confuse us with facts’ as they hurtled along.

    I don’t think it’s a show that would attract a paying audience, but wait, we are the paying audience.

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