Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Is The Review of the Electric Theatre Truly Open?

Published on: 11 Nov, 2015
Updated on: 15 Nov, 2015

Dragon Says 470Is the review of the future of the Electric Theatre really open-minded or has, in truth, the die been cast from the outset?

Last week, apparently out of the blue, came a strange Guildford Borough Council press release stressing that no decision had been taken. Of course no decision has been taken, the working group is not due to report until January. Had a master of the bleedin’ obvious taken over council comms?

The Electric Theatre

The Electric Theatre

We know that the owner of the ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music) would like to take over the theatre, and has implied that if he did not get his way he might get huffy, up sticks and move out, but surely the working group was going to do more than simply bow to crude threats and commercial pressure?

If not, if just a rubber stamp was required, why waste the time of everyone involved in the frequent and lengthy group meetings?

So why was the press release issued?

Opinion Logo 2Thankfully, an alert Dragon reader soon came up with the reason, an article posted on Eagle Radio 96.4’s news site, the preferred medium of the former council leader Stephen Mansbridge.

The site had published a story saying that the chair of the working group, Cllr Geoff Davis, when addressing a Conservative business breakfast group meeting at the County Club, had let slip words that implied a decision had already been made about the Electric’s future, and its future was ACM.

But how could this be? Cllr Davis is new to the game of being a councillor and his clumsy handling of the Museum review proves that he has much to learn, but surely even he knows you shouldn’t make public the result of a review until the report has been written? That would make the review a sham.

After all, he booted off a councillor from both the museum and theatre working groups for merely daring to suggest that the public should make their views on the museum’s future known.

There has been no denial and Cllr Davis’ apparently careless words, over the bacon and eggs, mean that the integrity of the whole review is now open to question.

The Electric Theatre was set up only because of the involvement and support of local amateur dramatic groups. What will become of them if the premises are let to the highest bidder?

Perhaps, with the constant pressure for more spending cuts coming from the council’s fellow Conservatives at Westminster, we can only expect Cllr Davis and his chums to continue to squeeze the council’s assets, as directed by their former captain before he jumped ship.

We should, by now, know that the social or community value of any asset is unlikely to be understood. It’s only the bottom line that counts and we all had better get used to it. So no doubt they will advertise the Electric Theatre to see who comes up with the best offer.

Well, you might think so but, strangely, a reliable source has told The Guildford Dragon NEWS that won’t happen and that the ACM is going to be allowed to take over without offering the lease to anyone else. If true, why would the ACM get such preferential treatment?

The academy, when asked to confirm the claim, quickly responded with a, “No comment,” and we are still waiting for a response from Cllr Davis on the subject. Perhaps having put his foot in his mouth once again he has become too frightened to speak?

But it’s too late now.

We need the important work of these review groups to be taken over by a chairperson more sure-footed, someone who shows better judgement, someone who we can believe when he/she says all options are on the table.

This needs to be done and done quickly if the tattered reputation of this council and our cultural heritage are not to be damaged further.

There is little time to lose. Attending to the problem needs to be one of the first things on the new council leader’s to do list.

See also: Council Stresses – No Decisions Yet Taken on Electric Theatre

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Responses to The Dragon Says: Is The Review of the Electric Theatre Truly Open?

  1. Pauline Surrey Reply

    November 12, 2015 at 9:29 am

    I suspect a decision has long been made. Years ago, probably . What will be next for the chop?

  2. Eddie Russell Reply

    November 12, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Oh dear. Do I see further appearances in Private Eye coming?

  3. Martin Elliott Reply

    November 12, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Within the constitution of GBC, or local authorities in general, are there a set of procedures/rules for review groups?

    The museum group became public knowledge due to the decision to enforce a seven year old possession order and then the Electric Theatre review came to light. Although a new councillor, Geoff Davis was considered an appropriate chairman, presumably due to his 42 years professional experience as a chartered surveyor.

    However his actions as chairman politically have been questionable, as noted above.

    In addition why are neither of these review groups, and possibly others, listed as his responsibility on his personal page of the GBC website? What happened to the promises of openness and transparency by the majority party of the council?

    The setting up of the council working groups was included in documents published online by Guildford Borough Council. Ed

  4. Mary Bedforth Reply

    November 12, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Has a link to this report been posted here at all?

    Yet another outside consultancy produced it.

    The Electric Theatre and Guildford Performing Arts Venues
    Beckwith Consulting Ltd
    October 2014—Electric-Theatre/pdf/Item_07(1)__-_Appendix_1_-_The_Electric_Theatre_and_Performing_Arts_Venues_Report_October_2014.pdf

  5. Amy Yorston Reply

    November 12, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    The report has sat on the council website for a while but has not been widely circulated. It is interesting reading, particularly the opening few pages which state:

    “Performing arts venues are complex businesses to manage and although the Council has extensive financial and business expertise it lacks the technical expertise required to fully evaluate the ongoing performance of YAT in relation to its grant. This lack of technical expertise also applies to the monitoring and evaluation of other council funded venues such as G Live and The Electric Theatre.”

    The table evaluating subsidy per attendee is a strange addition as obviously The Electric has fewer visitors than the YA and GLive – it has fewer seats!

  6. Cllr Geoff Davis Reply

    November 14, 2015 at 9:14 am

    I am grateful to Mary Bedforth in highlighting the independent Beckwith Consulting report on the Electric Theatre and Guildford Performing Arts Venues from October 2014.

    For those currently involved in discussions about the future of the Electric Theatre, or those making comments, please do download this document and read the content.

    This sets the scene on the financial challenges, which have certainly not eased since then. It advises about the relationship with GATA. Those recommendations were followed.

    GATA have received agreed booking throughout 2016.

    The 2014-15 subsidy for the Electric was £257,062. The projected subsidy for 2015/16 is £267,095.

    I do not believe that Guildford ratepayers can be comfortable with such a level of subsidy.

    Ten previously interested parties (including GATA, the Fringe, and two cinemas) have been re-contacted to invite them to make their best proposals.

    Also, the property is being marketed by Owen Shipp, commercial property agents, currently. They will be inviting “best bids” by 4th December 2015.

    Any offers received will be very carefully considered, alongside the offer currently on the table from Kainne Clements/ACM.

    I am always happy to meet or talk with anybody who has anything productive to say about the Electric Theatre or the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

    [Cllr Geoff Davis (Con, Holy Trinity) is the lead councillor for economoic development]

    • Anna-Marie Davis Reply

      November 14, 2015 at 11:47 am

      Can we be reminded what the Guildford ratepayer’s subsidy was for Armed Forces Day, and when we were consulted on that vanity?

      • Dave Middleton Reply

        November 14, 2015 at 4:46 pm

        There can be no comparison between Armed Forces Day, which commemorates those who served and gave their lives for our country and which commends those who serve now, risking their lives for us, with a subsidy which allows amateur actors to put on shows.

        I presume the various participants in the productions do it as a hobby and because they enjoy it?

        My hobby is motorcycling. I thoroughly enjoy it, but I don’t expect the council to subsidise me in my hobby with other people’s money.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      November 14, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      £300,000 from the rate payers (actually Council Tax payers) may be welcomed expenditure by the residents of Guildford.

      £7,000,000 plus (probably double that) on a link road to nowhere, (or just another traffic jam) which dams the Wey ‘bourne’, now that is an expense too far, especially when the basic rational questions haven’t been asked “Where does the traffic come from and go to…..?” or, “Where the water will back up to when the dam is installed on Clay Lane.”

      Sell off the family silver if you must but at least ask the family first whether it is is necessary.

  7. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 14, 2015 at 9:57 am

    How typical of the GBC executive. Make the decision, then offer to consult.

  8. Gordon Bridger Reply

    November 14, 2015 at 10:36 am

    What makes Councillor Davis think that Guildford ratepayers are not happy with a subsidy of £267,000? I am, and since it is less than a cup of coffee per year per inhabitant, or two cups if you include households, it seems to me to be a very good use of funds.

    As I have mentioned elsewhere our total tax bill is only £69 per person – and the reason that the council want cuts is to meet central Government directives not the wishes local people.

    We are fortunate to live in one of the wealthiest communities in Britain and these cuts, which make trivial savings, imply we do not value these community activities and cannot afford them. It shows little understanding of our community values which have taken years to build up and are now suddenly being undermined to save us the cost of an annual cup of coffee.

  9. Mary Bedforth Reply

    November 14, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    I put the link up to illustrate that yet another outside consultancy had been employed. Are the officers that remain not able to perform such work? If not able, why not?.

    I would love to know how much of our council tax has gone to consultants over say the last three years!

  10. Jack Dawson Reply

    November 16, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    This race has been run, Cllr Davis has very generously announced the result and thereby saved us the bother of the time-consuming and expensive competitive element. I think he should be applauded.

    Promotions and trebles all round.

  11. George Potter Reply

    November 17, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Speaking as a Council Tax payer, I’m very happy with the subsidy to the Electric Theatre. And it certainly bothers me far less than the roughly £400,000 subsidy to G Live which is so expensive that community groups are unable to use it. A stark contrast to the Electric Theatre.

  12. Eddie Russell Reply

    November 17, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    I agree entirely with Mr Potter. Let G Live run itself without the subsidy and give it to the Electric Theatre for the benefit of the community. Another pound or two on the prices for the fully professional performers at G Live won’t make much of a difference at that end of the market.

  13. Bernard Parke Reply

    November 17, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    If this helps the last figures that I can find for G live were those available last year. Hopefully things have improved since then.

    The figures were as follows:

    1) Deficit of £294.361

    2) Annual grant from GBC £328.596

    3) There was said to be a profit of £34,235 which enabled a sum of £6,847 to be returned to the borough

    4) Estimated dark days in the region of 114 against an estimated figure of 80 days

    The initial cost was in the region of £26,000,000 at that time it was said that further improvements were planned but not specified then.

    Nevertheless it was said that this flag ship venture was able to punch above its weight and in doing so attract the shows that prefer larger venues.

    As I said that these figures now are a little out-of-date but no doubt our councillors can give us an up-to-date appraisal.

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