Controversial St David’s Hall proposal still under consideration despite budget boost
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
Cardiff Council will still consider a controversial proposal for St David’s Hall to be taken over by a private company despite receiving a higher than anticipated budget increase from the Welsh Government.
After the 9% increase in funding from the government for 2023-24 , Cardiff Council’s budget gap has been shortened from £53 million to £23.5 million.
The council has revealed that it will ask members of the public on a series of options being considered ahead of the budget for 2023-24, including potentially reducing operating hours at recycling centres, restricting opening times of Hubs and libraries and increasing the cost of school meals.
The consultation, which will open online on December 23, will also ask residents about new ways of operating St David’s Hall, the White Water Rafting Centre and the Museum of Cardiff in the Old Library on The Hayes.
Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for finance, modernisation and performance, Cllr Chris Weaver, called the 9% increase in funding “very welcome” and “significant”.
However, he warned that the £23.5 million gap is still a big one to close.
He said: “The difference between a £50 million gap and a £23.5 million gap is very significant in terms of what that means for services and council tax and we are very grateful that the Welsh Government has gone as far as it has in trying to support local government.
“It does still leave a big gap to balance and we are concious that future years funding will continue to be strained if the announcement from Jeremy Hunt is correct.
“It is still a challenging position, but we are very pleased with what Welsh Government have tried to do to close that gap.”
One of the ways Cardiff Council has been looking to save money is find an alternative way of operating St David’s Hall.
The authority currently spends about £1 million per year on subsidising the classical music venue which has a maintenance bill running into the millions of pounds.
More recently, the council’s cabinet approved in principle an offer from Academy Music Group (AMG) to take on the running of St David’s Hall through a long term lease.
Despite calls for the popular venue to be kept in house, Cllr Weaver said the 9% funding increase will not change the decision to enter into negotiations with AMG.
The cabinet member said: “We took the cabinet paper through yesterday on the basis that this offer is worth exploring and I stand by that.
“It is absolutely worth exploring this offer because if [it] is right for the council, that is a substantial budget revenue saving and a very substantial saving in the capital cost that we would otherwise have to spend.”
Final approval of any lease would be subject to a further Cabinet report, following public consultation and the publication of a Voluntary Ex-Ante Notice (VEAT notice).
This is a public notice of intent which will include details of the draft contract negotiated with AMG.
The council will look to have a final cabinet decision made on the proposal in March 2023.
Cllr Weaver added: “We can’t be certain of future funding decisions or indeed price rises.
“We will need to make savings and that is one we are considering, but obviously that is subject to the caveats that we want to achieve for St David’s Hall.
“We have been very clear that we want to ensure the classical programme is protected, we want to ensure that it is the right option to secure St David’s Hall’s future, but that consultation will continue and that process will continue through the start of next year.”
The budget options that people will be asked about in the council’s budget consultation include:
- Looking at new ways of operating St David’s Hall, Cardiff International White Water, and the Museum of Cardiff (in the Old Library, on The Hayes) to reduce council subsidies
- Reducing operating hours at Household Waste recycling centres
- Restricting opening times of Hubs and libraries and using more volunteers to help run the service
- Increasing residential and pay and display parking charges
- Slightly reducing the subsidy on adults hiring sports pitches
- Increasing the price of the burials and cremation service, but by much less than inflation
- Increasing the cost of school meals, although we will continue to subsidise this service
Full details will be available to residents when the consultation opens online.
The consultation will run until January 29.
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