.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, October 12, 2007

Black hole?

When the Assembly Government went ahead with the construction of the Wales Millennium Centre there were a number of us who had doubts. It was inevitable that such a project was going to need substantial public revenue subsidy. Yet our fears were assuaged by promises of equal funding for projects outside of Cardiff, as well as an assurance that the business plan was robust and not overly-optimistic as had happened elsewhere.

We became less easy when the new Labour Arts Minister scaled back the commitment to non-Cardiff based arts projects and as successive motions came to Plenary asking us to underwrite loans to the WMC.

However, nobody knew or suspected the financial mess that the Wales Millennium Centre is now in. The BBC told us last night that the WMC has debts of £13.5m which it cannot repay, the Government's surety for this debt runs out at in December, and that if it is to survive then its annual subsidy will need to be increased to about £4m a year. The Welsh Government are now being asked to pay off the loan and to up its annual contribution.

It seems that Ministers have known about this situation for months but have kept it secret whilst they sought to negotiate a solution. It is now in the public domain and we must have questions answered about why such a crisis developed in the first place, why we were not told and what the government intends to do about it.

I am uneasy about pouring the sort of cash required into a potential black hole. I am highly reluctant to give yet another public handout to the Cardiff area when the capital City soaks up so much of the public and private investment that comes into Wales anyway. And I am adamant that if we do this then the rest of Wales must receive a commensurate share of cash as well. We cannot though allow the WMC to close. That would be a major blow for the prestige of Wales and the devolution project.

What we need is for the Minister to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I suspect that he has not got one. Accordingly I have asked the Chair of the Communities Committee if we can undertake an emergency scrutiny of this situation and I will be pushing for a very robust business plan and an affordable solution. We must not forget the rest of Wales either and I will be seeking a commitment from the Minister to give projects elsewhere some parity as well.
The interesting question is who leaked the report. Was it someone from the WMC trying to put pressure on the Assembly government to come up with the money? Everyone knows that the Culture department has a pretty small budget with little room for manoeuvre. Any money for the WMC will have to come from other Assembly budget headings and at the expense of other services. The irony of all this of course is that the local government settlement will probably mean severe cutbacks in local arts facilities. It can't be right that arts in the community could be hammered to subsidise a venue which shows second hand productions from the West End and which is inaccesible to most people in Wales because of the cost of a ticket and the difficulty of getting to the Bay.
When are you going to put us out of our misery Peter? Will you be running for leader in your neck of the woods?
We'd save money if we pulled it down and built an opera house instead.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?