Call to slash Waterside Theatre subsidy thrown out

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A CALL to slash the public cash used to subsidise Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre to zero has been thrown out.

At a dramatic debate last week, critics branded the venue the district council’s ‘financial millstone’, but they were accused of using the Waterside as a ‘political football’.

Bosses at Aylesbury Vale District Council said the £597,600 set to be spent on the venue this financial year was good value for money, with businesses reaping the rewards.

A motion demanding this sum was reduced to zero at the start of the 2016 financial year – when the management contract can next be renegotiated – was thrown out at a full council meeting.

Councillor Steven Patrick, Liberal Democrat, led a call for the subsidy to be cut to zero by the start of the 2016 financial year.

He said: “Four or five years ago I might have stood up and said it’s fair enough, because those were good times when money was still rolling out of local government coffers and national coffers.

“The whole country has to pull the belts in, and that applies to us.”

But Councillor Tom Hunter-Watts, Conservative, told the chamber: “No theatre of this size could exist without a subsidy.

“The subsidy we pay is pretty standard.”

And he added: “The theatre deserves better than to be used as a political football.”

Councillor Howard Mordue said it would cost the council more than £350,000 each year to market the venue.

Councillor Mike Smith, Liberal Democrat, who seconded Mr Patrick’s motion, said many were taken by surprise by the contract the council had with the Ambassador Theatre Group, which includes a £355,300 annual management fee for operating the £47 million venue.

He said: “Normally there’s rent to compensate the owner.”

And describing the theatre as a ‘financial millstone’, he said: “There’s no mention of rent, every cashflow is money going out from this council.”

Councillor Michael Beall, Labour, said: “If you let failing businesses collapse (referring to bowling alley Jardines, which was given planning permission to turn into a shop), then let the theatre stand on its own.”

And Councillor Michael Edmonds, Conservative cabinet member for economic development, said: “This is not a subsidy, it’s an investment.”

But Councillor David Thompson, Conservative, who is responsible for leisure services, said the theatre cost less to run than the Civic Centre.

He told the chamber: “The total yearly cost is marginally less than the cost to run the Civic Centre for the last three years, and it has three times the number of seats.

“I’d venture that’s good value for money.”