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Council ‘seriously underestimated’ cost of running £15m Perth Theatre, says former Horsecross chairman

Horsecross Former Chairman Magnus Linklater. Picture: Kenny Smith.
Horsecross Former Chairman Magnus Linklater. Picture: Kenny Smith.

Perth and Kinross Council “seriously underestimated” the cost of running the new £15 million Perth Theatre, according to the former chairman of Horsecross Arts.

Magnus Linklater resigned from his post in 2019 after “serious concerns” were raised over the organisation’s financial management after six years of operation.

But now Mr Linklater says the council was warned many times by his board of the cost of running the theatre, as well as Perth Concert Hall.

Horsecross Former Chairman Magnus Linklater. Picture: Kenny Smith.

And he accused the local authority of withholding promised funds that would have helped steady the ship.

His comments come after it emerged Horsecross Arts needs a £2-3 million investment if it is to survive in 2022.

But Perth and Kinross Council says the organisation is “now financially stable” after the local authority provided emergency funds two years ago.

‘Funds were promised, but withheld’

Mr Linklater says that while his board was open to criticism, the council must also be held to account.

He added that the finances of both the theatre and concert hall were a “shared responsibility”.

He said: “The fact is there are two sides to this story.

“In our view, the council seriously under-estimated the cost of running its new £15 million theatre, despite being warned many times by the board.

“We were effectively expected to run two venues on a budget that covered only one.

“Funds were promised, but withheld.

Perth Theatre, run by Horsecorss. Picture: Steve MacDougall.

“The finances of both venues were a shared responsibility: the council was represented on the board, and, from early in 2019, monitored all decisions by means of a joint task force.

“I have no doubt the board is open to criticism. But that does not absolve the council or its officers.”

He added: “I cannot allow my board of experienced and dedicated people, who gave up so much of their time to the theatre and concert hall, to be subjected to damaging accusations of mismanagement, when the financial problems of Horsecross Arts were as much the responsibility of the council and its officials as the board itself.”

What did the Council have to say?

In response to the concerns, Perth and Kinross Council says it is now working closely with the current Horsecross board to ensure the future of the organisation’s venues.

A spokesperson said: “In 2019 the council was required to step in to provide emergency financial support to Horsecross Arts and ensure improvements to governance following an independent audit, also commissioned by the council.

“Horsecross Arts is now financially stable and we continue to work closely with the board and staff to focus on a positive future for this important arts organisation.”

And what about the coming year?

At a scrutiny committee meeting earlier this month, councillors were told of how Horsecross would require £2-3 million next year to survive.

They heard that the cash injection would be needed to upgrade “fairly elderly” equipment and infrastructure.

Perth Concert Hall, run by Horsecross.

Meanwhile, keeping both venues well ventilated amid the pandemic was described as “prohibitively expensive”, with energy costs said to have increased by 29%.

Current Horsecorss Chairman Colin Hood told councillors: “The price of that energy – because we buy off of the council scheme – is set and I don’t think it’s subject to rising which is good.

“It’s the actual consumption that’s the issue for us – just keeping these buildings as well ventilated as we can and it’s been prohibitively expensive.”

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