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The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra To Be Outsourced

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

The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra with Lesley Garrett – Photo Will Unwin

The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO), which has existed since 1945, was finally killed off last night (November 1), at least in its current form.

In a special meeting of Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee it was agreed that the option to keep it going as a service, run and financed by the council, was no longer feasible, given the level of subsidy required.

A report made to the committee stated: “…a report on 26 April 2012…clearly demonstrated that the costs of providing the GPO are extremely high and do not represent value for money. The average subsidy is approximately £46 per ticket, compared to £2.22 per ticket at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.”

The £46 figure has been disputed but most appear to accept that the level of subsidy has been too high.

Although the decision will still need to be confirmed at the next Executive meeting, this is regarded as a formality.

Dale Chambers

The committee was addressed by Dale Chambers, a freelance violinist who was educated at the Royal Grammar School and has played with the GPO. After welcoming Interim Strategic Director Peter Lipmann’s report, Mr Chamber’s said: “G Live has really struggled to sell seats [for its classical concerts]. Classical music is never going to make money. We all know that. I hope we are all going to be on board to support it as a cultural thing.”

He stressed his view that there was value in the brand ‘Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra’ and said: “It is important that whatever orchestra wins this bid it is still called the Guildford Phil.” To secure the name he felt it should be made a condition of the future contract.

He added: “Guildford people will turn out to see the GPO. [The selection of the music] will have to be dumbed down, but that’s okay.”

Cllr Terence Patrick (Con, Send) agreed that keeping ‘Guildford’ in the name was important, as did several other councillors present, but Cllr Andrew French (Con, Clandon & Horsley) thought to constrain future providers in this way would  be, “…absolutely absurd. We need to give them the choice. If it does have such a cachet the new provider will want to use it.” His proposal that the name selection should not be constrained was accepted by a majority of the committee.

Several speakers said that they thought it unlikely that many concerts will be held in G Live, as attracting an audience large enough to fill the venue would be too difficult.

It emerged during the meeting that it had already been agreed that the council will continue to subsidise the orchestra to the tune of £60,000 per annum for the first four years of its new life so that it can become established, an increase in the level of subsidy over a longer period than had previously been floated. Recently the orchestra was reported to have been costing the council £190,000 each year.

In conclusion, the committee agreed with the recommendation from Interim Strategic Director Peter Lipman that options to continue the orchestra under present arrangements or simple closure, with no form of replacement, should be discounted and that the remaining option, ‘to change the structure of classical music provision to reduce overhead costs’, be recommended to the Executive.

It is hoped that the orchestra can effectively be outsourced to a provider who can organise a mainly classical music programme that will at least break even. Bids are to be invited from suitable providers following acceptance of the recommendation by the Executive on November 8.

Cllr Jenny Powell, (Con, Clandon & Horsley) the lead councillor for Culture and Leisure, said: “I am so grateful to the support here because it shows that you care about it. My fear was that we would have no substitute. We realised that it was not sustainable as it was before and we have chosen to go down this route.”

Cllr Tony Phillips

Tony Phillips winding up the meeting said: “This is partly a sad day… this will be the end of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra as we know it. It is the end of an era. Guildford Borough Council has funded and managed the orchestra as part of its arts provision for the borough since its inception in 1945. They have been an integral part of the Guildford music scene and their high quality performances will be missed.

“I would like to pay tribute to the Guildford Philharmonic staff who have worked tirelessly to arrange the concerts in these difficult times when budgets have been cut year on year with the threat of closure hanging over them.”

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Responses to The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra To Be Outsourced

  1. Nick Stonebridge Reply

    March 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    The concert was magical. We kept expecting an announcement that the Guildford Philharmonic would be given additional financial support. Were we witnessing the loss of something or a painful rebirth?

    Despite the closeness to Easter, a time for resurrection and resurgence, there was no message of good news either for the audience, the orchestra or for those who worked so hard to put on the events. No one from the borough council came and spoke up.

    The sheer frustration expressed by the leader, Paul Barritt, over the full houses and the excellent quality of the musicians, said it all; what more can we do? The candle lit concerts at the Holy Trinity heralding Christmas, the New Year or Spring have been part of our lives for many years and would be missed terribly.

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