Watford Concerts Archive

Open letter to the Mayor - responses (2)

The Mayor's second response, 20 November 2009

Dear Jonathan

I am concerned that you are scaremongering and passing on incorrect information.  It is upsetting staff involved as well as HQ theatres.  I would be grateful if you would post this response alongside your open letter on your website, and circulate it to your e-news group.

Watford residents and council tax-payers have told the me they would like to see a wide ranging programme of acts at the Colosseum. This will also give the Colosseum the best possible chance to be financially viable in the future.

 We have undertaken an extensive procurement process to secure the best possible specialist operator at the Colosseum. HQ Theatres has been selected as ‘preferred bidder’ precisely because they have agreed to provide a wide range of entertainment - including classical musical provision. At two of their other venues they run classical music series with the support of Orchestras Live.

We care about the acoustics in our building and commissioned one of the country’s leading professional acousticians, ‘Arup Acoustics’, to ensure that this is protected, and engaged ARTS TEAM, one of the leading arts and theatre practices in the country, part of architectural firm Renton Howard Wood Levin, to develop our plans to invest in the Colosseum.

Watford Borough Council and HQ Theatres have spoken with you, as one of the many users of the Colosseum, about our plans for financial investment in the Colosseum and the process for securing a commercial operator. Your organisation is only one of the many, many groups that use the Colosseum. We will be continuing a programme of classical music and we hope that you will continue to be part of this, but we cannot treat you differently from any one else. Your organisation will continue to be eligible for the discounted community hire rate.

You want the council to subsidise your organisation by giving you a grant: Grant funding isn't a core council service. It is a choice that politicians make as to whether a council should fund a general grants programme or not. My budgets have so far meant that Watford Borough Council is one of the most generous councils of its size for grant funding.  The council, of course, has an agreed and open process for deciding grant funding - to be fair to all applicants. We have advised you that any application for funding will be looked at on its merits. The council cannot give any indication in advance as to whether your application in the next funding round would be successful.

As Watford residents know, we have continually kept them informed about the plans for investing in the Colosseum and the appointment of an operator to provide wide-ranging entertainment via our council magazine that gets distributed to every household in the borough, as well as via our website.  We are also delighted that according to the largest ever nationwide survey of people's views on public services, Watford residents are the most satisfied people in the country with their leisure facilities.

Dorothy Thornhill
Elected Mayor of Watford
Mayors Office: 01923 278371
Town Hall, Watford, WD17 3EX

Jonathan Brett's answer, 20 November 2009

Dear Dorothy

Thank you for this reponse, I will undertake to ensure that it is distributed.

I think that you have failed to understand that my issue does not arise from the issue of grants or continued operation in Watford by CCT:  it concerns the whole process which the council has undertaken.    For example if, as you indicate, HQ Theatres are planning appropriate orchestral provision then there would be no need for CCT involvement in any case.  In such a circumstance, though, then after 12 seasons of investment by CCT I think the minimum courtesy would have been to let us know and to discuss how to manage the transfer most effectively.

I am not trying to make anybody's life difficult, only to ensure that the best possible decisions are made for the hall and the local and wider population.  Nothing said at any point has yet convinced me of this and your response today makes assertions rather than actually addressing any of the numerous questions in any credible detail.  You choose to take issue over the distribution of "incorrect information" but actually appear to engage in just that:  it is not a clear statement but you imply that Orchestras Live provide the subsidy for orchestral concerts in High Wycombe Swan and Southend Cliffs Pavilion.   Whilst they certainly contribute, it is extremely hard to believe that they cover the full cost.   At present Orchestras Live provide £500 per concert in Watford and there is no basis for assuming that HQ can negotiate any kind of special deal with them - and in any case I imagine they would not be able work directly with a commercial promoter.  Stuart Bruce at Orchestras Live is away today so I am copying him in on this in order that he can comment if relevant.

In both the venues you mention I think the reality is that it is the local authority which is paying the lion's share of cost for the classical music and that in neither case is HQ actually the promoter of the concerts, hence my opinion that Watford Borough Council needs to make provision in both regards.   Given that HQ have indicated to Watford Musical Heritage that they have no plans to subsidise orchestral music and you have made clear that no formal provision for subsidy has been made by the council, your assertion that the future of music is live and well is difficult to believe.  The only circumstance in which I can see this being true is if the BBC Concert Orchestra is to be the sole provider, not by any means an unreasonable solution for all concerned, but one which should have been sought honestly and openly.

For a long time now I have been trying to ensure numerous legitimate concerns are addressed effectively and credibly.   This was the reason for my proposition - which you have chosen to ignore - that an open forum would be the best solution.   If the council and HQ Theatres wished to prevent the need to make concerns public, then I have been open to discussion throughout the process.   Not once, however, has anyone initiated contact with me in order to resolve questions concerning the hall's future, either from WBC or HQ.  Despite my various efforts to arrange a meeting with HQ, I heard nothing whatsoever from them since May 13th. 

If, in my efforts to ensure that issues are addressed I have distributed incorrect information, I should be grateful for clarification of the exact nature of this.  I shall naturally continue to extend you the same courtesy.  

With best wishes