Council admits Waterside Theatre audience issue as it looks to cut £350,000 annual subsidy

Waterside Theatre
Waterside Theatre

It has ‘taken considerably longer to build audiences’ at the Waterside Theatre than expected, the district council has admitted as it looks to cut the annual subsidy it pays to operators ATG.

Following a five year review of its contract with Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), AVDC ‘realises’ the £350,000 annual management fee ‘is no longer affordable’ and ‘wishes to negotiate a better financial deal in the future’.

And a report to cabinet members says that following ‘very positive’ negotiations with ATG, it has achieved the ‘best terms and outcome possible’, with the fee having been reduced ‘substantially’.

Cabinet members will vote on whether to accept the new deal, which is being kept confidential, at its meeting next week.

The council says that ATG has ‘delivered a first class programme of events and productions but that it has taken considerably longer to build audiences than

was expected at the time of the bid [for a theatre operator]’.

It ‘accepts that with the world wide recession and less disposable income since 2010, it has taken ATG much longer to establish [the Waterside] in the market place and to develop audiences, group bookings and repeat business’ but that overall, the venue is ‘as good or better than other major provincial theatres around the country’.

Specialist consultant Artservice, which was employed by the council to advise on the theatre’s performance, said that ‘despite the challenges, the Waterside Theatre programme has achieved some considerable successes and brought to Aylesbury work of the highest national and international standing, along with a string of household celebrities and performers, as well as some of the UK’s finest companies and actors’.

Its reports goes on: “In addition, it has provided a top quality amenity for the local arts, voluntary and business communities and run an extensive programme of

learning and participatory activities that have reached thousands of local residents and children and young people in particular.”

Other options which involve dropping the contract with ATG, such as going to re-tender or operating it in-house, were considered, but Artservice recommended continuing the current agreement ‘via renogotiation’.

Regarding the management fee, the consultant said ‘the annual subsidy paid to ATG is in line with national average for this type of management arrangement, however there may be scope to reduce it’.

The theatre was built by AVDC at a cost of £47m. It opened in 2010. ATG’s contract to run the theatre lasts until 2025.

A council spokesman said: “The new management fee is commercially sensitive information and cannot be made public. The £350,000 management fee has been in the public domain for a number of years and as such is a matter of public record.”

BACKGROUND READING

Bucks Herald exclusive story on taxpayers subsidy to ATG, June 2011