Standing ovation for the professor

A standing ovation to Professor Pick for lifting the curtain on the true state of the cost of operating the theatres run by our Council (Productions’ six-figure contribution to coffers – Eastbourne Herald, June 3).

Your once weekly contributor to the Herald website, Ian Lucas, former leader of the council, has written on more than one occasion about poor attendance, especially at big shows such as The Sound of Music, and the possible reasons for this together with ways in which this could be improved.

Of course it would help if the theatres were better used. For example in 2010 I understand that the Congress Theatre hosted about 200 performances whereas a similar seaside theatre, Blackpool’s Grand (once council-owned itself), hosted twice that many over the same period.

Theatres are businesses and need to be operated accordingly. The public of Eastbourne are the ‘shareholders’ but we receive scant information about the profitability of these enterprises.

Instead the council chooses to make the financial information as obscure as possible.

The Eastbourne Borough Council spokesperson commented that Professor Pick draws various conclusions that are misleading, but then provides a financial fudge to try to assert that the theatres are well run by saying, “...Eastbourne is able to service The Congress, The Winter Garden, Devonshire Park Theatre and The Hippodrome for just £744,000 per annum… in subsidy.”

A quick look at the Council’s Budget Book for 2010-11 shows that the £744,000 refers to ‘Theatres Admin’ and for the theatres there are support costs totalling £798,000 and capital charges totalling £257,000.

So it would be much better if the ‘shareholders’ were to be given proper, and full, income and expenditure accounts for each theatre inclusive of all support costs and financing charges just as every other regular business is required to do.

Elsewhere the Herald is reporting on the engagement of Marks Barfield to help deliver a vision for the Devonshire Park complex, including the Congress, Winter Garden and Devonshire Park Theatre venues.

It is to be welcomed that this architectural practice, that designed the iconic London Eye, is to be involved.

However, a quick look at the Marks Barfield web site suggests that while submitting many cutting edge designs for major venues in the last three-four years most of these seem as though they are gathering dust on their clients’ shelves.

And it isn’t at all clear that Marks Barfield has any prior experience in developing a vision for such a diverse site.

If anyone needs further evidence of a lack of joined up thinking concerning the council’s theatres and the future of the Devonshire Park complex you just need to read the 2011 refresh of its Corporate Plan that went to Cabinet this week.

In the projects section ‘theatre’ gets mentioned once and ‘tennis’ twice.

As a comparison ‘Towner’ gets mentioned five times.

But it’s only our money being spent, so why worry, eh?

Tony Crooks

Mendip Avenue