Theatre subsidy under review by councillors

White Rock Theatre
White Rock Theatre
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COUNCILLORS met to review the costly subsidy paid to the company which operates the White Rock Theatre.

Hastings Borough Council has paid in excess of £2 million over the last four years by way of an agreed management fee to HQ Theatres.

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee was due to discuss a report on the operation of the seafront theatre, by head of amenities, resorts and leisure Virginia Gilbert, at the meeting yesterday evening (Thursday).

The report states: “Although the theatre has struggled over the years to attract audiences, recent experience has been stable.

“The theatre is slowly gaining the reputation it needs to attract popular touring shows.

“However, the theatre operation needs - and the contract requires - a substantial subsidy from the council.

“Members wish to scrutinise the current arrangements and consider whether less costly options exist for the theatre.”

The White Rock Theatre is operated by HQ Theatres Limited under a 10-year lease, and although the level of subsidy paid by the council is lower than the previous contract, it still amounts to more than £500,000 a year.

Attendance figures as a percentage of the total capacity have not been healthy however, averaging at around 40 per cent over the last three years, and not exceeding 36 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

More encouraging is the total number of paid attendances in 2012/13 was 64,142, a 19 per cent increase on the figure for the previous year.

Virginia Gilbert’s report goes on to point out that there are no significant options to reduce the subsidy during the course of the contract, which ends in 2019, and could only be terminated early by mutual agreement.

The report to the council continues: “As the council does not at this time have another use in mind for the theatre building, a primary consideration might be the impact of an empty building in a regeneration area.”

Howard Barnes, director of the White Rock Theatre, said: “Our attendances have increased.

“We are doing fewer but more high profile shows and the audiences are increasing.

“However, a programme can’t change overnight. We have got quite a different programme now to the one I inherited.

“I am pleased that the council is looking at the White Rock Theatre, because it belongs to the council and to the people of the town.

“I will make, and have always made myself available to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee if it wants me.”

He added that it was important for the people of the town to support their theatre, as the higher-profile artists would only come if the audiences were coming.

Visit our website at www.hastingsobserver.co.uk for a report of the meeting, which took place after this edition went to press.