Competition regulator urged to act over St David’s Hall takeover
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
Councillors have sent a join letter to a competition regulator over fears that a potential takeover of St David’s Hall could lead to venues in Cardiff being monopolised.
Eight Cardiff Council members from the Conservatives group wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority to raise concerns about a takeover of the classical music venue by Academy Music Group (AMG), a company which is largely owned by Live Nation.
The councillors point out that Live Nation currently operates the Cardiff International Arena and will be a joint operator of the new arena at Cardiff Bay.
The letter, signed by Cllr Adrian Robson, Cllr Calum Davies, Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless, Cllr Joel Williams, Cllr Emma Reid-Jones, Cllr John Lancaster, Cllr Peter Littlechild and Cllr Sian-Elin Melbourne, says: “Where is the market freedom if they have St. David’s Hall as well?
“We believe allowing a single company to dominate the live music sector in Cardiff, through horizontal integration, removes any choice and value for music fans.
“After signing up to this transaction, could Cardiff Council stand up to Live Nation if it proposes closing St. David’s Hall or terminating classical performances unless Cardiff Council pays more money?”
With the council facing a budget gap of £23.5 million and St David’s Hall building up a maintenance bill running into the millions of pounds, the authority has been looking at new ways of operating the venue.
An offer by AMG to take on St David’s Hall via a long-term lease was approved in principle by Cardiff Council’s cabinet in December.
The proposal has faced widespread opposition from employees, concert goers and musicians. A petition opposing the proposal has received more than 21,700 signatures.
Councillors have also raised concerns about the future of St David’s Hall’s classical music programme – something which is raised in the letter sent to the Competition and Markets Authority. However, the council insist that the protection of the music programme will be a priority as part of any deal.
As part of its proposal, AMG said it will commit to setting aside 60 days during the peak event period, and an additional 25 days outside of the peak season, to guarantee time for events including Cardiff Singer of the World and the Welsh Proms.
At a Cardiff Council meeting held in December, Cllr Brown-Reckless asked how the council would be able to stand up to a company with a monopoly and “the extent of power that Live Nation has got”.
Director of Economic Development at Cardiff Council, Neil Hanratty, said at the meeting: “There will be a contract. The council will have a lease and there are clauses in the lease which will allow us to control the things that are important to us.”
Investing in the future
An AMG spokesperson said: “Academy Music Group is investing in the future of St David’s Hall to ensure this much-loved venue continues to bring classical and contemporary music to its dedicated audience for years to come.”
Once a draft contract is drawn up for the deal, the council will publish what is known as VEAT notice, which is used to publish a commercial intention to the wider market.
This allows competitors to come forward with a challenge to the proposal, which would lead to a procurement process. A VEAT notice will normally stand for about 10 to 20 days.
If no challenge is presented once the VEAT period is up, a final report will be presented to the council’s cabinet for approval. The council maintains that it is aiming for a final cabinet decision in March.
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