Committee chair voices concern over staffing changes if St David’s Hall privatisation goes ahead
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
Cardiff Council is being asked to clarity any potential future staffing changes before it enters into a deal to privatise St David’s Hall.
The council said workers’ contracts will be protected through a Transfer of Undertakings (Protection and Employment) (TUPE) regulations agreement if Academy Music Group (AMG) takes over the running of the venue on a long-term lease.
However, Cllr Joel William said he fears jobs at the classical music venue are not as secure as it might seem.
Talking about the TUPE agreement, Cllr Williams said: “They would simply transfer from the current provider to the new provider. The contracts would remain as they currently are.
“However, if there are technical, economic or operational changes that take place, that would allow the new provider to vary the existing staff’s terms and conditions.
“They could introduce a restructure, they could reduce the number of staff and my concern is that AMG will want to turn a profit quite quickly. One of the ways that they may seek to do that is by cutting the number of staff.
“I am of the view that at the council, we should really be nailing that out with AMG to find out exactly what plans they have for our staff and more importantly how they think they are going to be able to turn around St David’s Hall to make it a profit-making enterprise.”
The Conservative member’s calls for councillors to be able to take another look at plans for a takeover of St David’s Hall have recently been answered.
Cardiff Council has confirmed that a scrutiny meeting will take place in January to allow members to ask about AMG’s proposal to take on the running of the classical music venue in relation to the the council’s recent funding boost from the Welsh Government.
A better than expected 9% increase in funding means the council’s budget gap has reduced from £53m to £23.5m.
Cllr Williams, who is the chair of the council’s policy review and performance (PRAP) scrutiny committee, added: “I am pleased that the council have agreed with me that there is a need to further scrutinise the proposal to dispose of St David’s Hall because when cabinet made the decision they were working on the basis that they needed to find £53m in savings.
“We now have to find £23m worth of savings, so there is a £30m drop in the requirement. What I want to know and what I will be teasing out as chairman of the policy review and performance scrutiny committee is where was St David’s Hall on the savings hierarchy?
“Where did it go? is it necessary for us to proceed with the disposal of St David’s Hall?”
Cardiff Council’s cabinet approved in principle an offer from AMG to take on the operation of St David’s Hall earlier this month.
The council will ask residents for their thoughts on the future of the venue as part of the budget consultation which is being launched online tomorrow (Friday, December 23).
A final cabinet decision on AMG’s proposed takeover is expected in March 2023.
Cllr Williams laid out his case for a call-in of the recent cabinet decision in a letter to Cardiff Council, referring to concerns over workers contracts and unease over the possibility of a music venue monopoly in the city, given that Live Nation, of which AMG is a part of, currently operates the Cardiff International Arena and will be a joint operator of the new arena at Cardiff Bay.
However, the council has stipulated that only the increase in Welsh Government funding can be discussed at the scrutiny meeting in January.
A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “The call-in request by the chair of PRAP has been reviewed and accepted on the basis that only information around the Welsh Government’s better-than-expected local government settlement for next year can be discussed as part of this call in.
“This decision reflects the fact that the Welsh Government settlement wasn’t available at the time the original scrutiny on the matter took place.
“Cllr Williams has indicated that he would have no objection to this call in being dealt with as part of the next cycle of scrutiny meetings, it will come to PRAP on Tuesday, January 17.”
In response to Cllr Williams’ comments on the protection workers’ contracts, the council’s cabinet member for finance, modernisation and performance, Cllr Chris Weaver, said: “Even with the better than anticipated settlement from Welsh Government, we still have a £23.5m budget gap for next year, as the grant funding we will get is not enough to cover rising prices and increasing demand for our services.
“Clearly savings still need to be found and difficult choices made to close that gap.
“The St David’s Hall proposals are being consulted on between December 23 and January 29, with a final decision expected to be made on the issue by cabinet in March.
“If it goes ahead, this provides a revenue saving of hundreds of thousands of pounds and saves capital expenditure of tens of millions, whilst securing investment in the building, the classical programme, and the acoustic quality of the hall, so it is worthy of proper consideration.
“If it were to proceed, eligible staff are protected by TUPE regulations – this is national legislation and would apply in the event of any new operator taking over the service delivered by St David’s Hall.
“There has already been a full council meeting and a scrutiny committee meeting relating to the proposal, there will be another scrutiny meeting in January, which will be a further opportunity for issues to be fully discussed and considered.”
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