Action plan to secure future of civic suites

First published in News

AN action plan is being launched in a bid to turn around the fortunes of the borough’s underperforming four civic venues.

The move comes after a detailed review of the halls found that usage is declining and that user satisfaction is low.

Having registered a total deficit of £798,000 in 2010-11, Bury Council bosses say that continuing with the current levels of subsidy and format for the service is not sustainable.

A management group, to be chaired by The Met director David Agnew, is being established to run alongside the action plan which was developed via feedback from stakeholder groups, including users of the Elizabethan Suite, Radcliffe Civic Suite, Longfield Suite and Ramsbottom Civic Hall.

The independent review of the halls was carried out by Price Waterhouse Coopers, looking at all aspects of how the four venues are run and how their financial subsidies can be addressed.

The action plan will focus on: l Pricing structure l Removing charges for using outside caterers l Providing in-house catering at the Elizabethan Suite only l Better marketing and promotion l Venue management and co-location of services Three different ways forward for the council were proposed in the report. These were: assuming continued ownership and operation of the facilities, outsourcing/selling one or more of the venues and total closure.

But Cllr Jane Lewis, Bury’s cabinet member for leisure, tourism and culture said closing any of the halls was not an option at this stage.

At the latest cabinet meeting, held at St Bernadette’s Parish Centre, Whitefield, last Wednesday, Cllr Lewis said: “The civic venues have been subject to considerable financial pressure for a number of years. The venues operate in a very competitive market locally and have suffered from declining usage, influenced in part by the wider economic recession.

“A number of internal reviews have taken place in recent years and, despite implementing changes from these reviews, improvements have been difficult as the current market and economic conditions remain very challenging.

“These halls are at the heart of our community and they are valuable facilities. We think we have a good chance to turn them around.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Iain Gartside asked: “Is closure an option we want to consider before the possibility of outsourcing?”

But Cllr Lewis said it was not.

The cabinet meeting approved the action plan and its progress will be closely monitored throughout the year.

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