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Controversial Perth Museum cafe gets £230k handout from council

The £27M museum is due to open in seven weeks but its cafe has been plagued by criticism and delays.

Exterior of Perth Museum.
The £27M Perth Museum is opening at the end of this month. Image: Culture Perth and Kinross.

Council bosses are handing over £230,000 to prop up the cafe in the new Perth Museum.

The funding will pay for fixtures and fittings. It will also help to meet the venue’s running costs for the first six months.

It comes seven weeks before the £27 million museum is due to open in the refurbished Perth City Hall on March 30.

And it follows two failed bids to find an external operator to run the attraction’s cafe on behalf of Culture Perth and Kinross.

The move is likely to further fuel anger among critics who say it will be unfair competition for existing businesses in Perth’s Cafe Quarter.

Perthshire Local entrepreneur Iain Fenwick said the process had been “ill-thought out and poorly planned”.

Iain Fenwick standing in Perth city centre
Iain Fenwick has been critical of the Perth Museum cafe plan. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

“Saying visitors expect a cafe in a museum is probably true,” he said.

“But not when that museum is completely surrounded by cafes.”

Perth Museum cafe ‘can’t afford to fail’

The funding was agreed by Perth and Kinross Council’s finance and resources committee.

Councillors were asked to approve a pay-out of £60,000 to Culture Perth and Kinross to pay for cafe fixtures and fittings.

Another £170,000 is being provided to meet the upfront costs of operating the cafe until September 30 this year.

Perth museum cafe interior, showing round tables laid out with white tablecloths and place settings in the former city hall
The cafe space inside the new £27M museum in the former Perth City Hall. Image: Supplied.

A report to the committee said: “It is anticipated that this will be repaid by Culture Perth and Kinross from future revenues.”

The new museum, which will house the Stone of Destiny, has already received £17M from Perth and Kinross Council and £10M from the Tay Cities Deal.

Some members of the committee raised concerns about the decision to run the cafe in-house, and the potential impact on other businesses.

Councillor Alasdair Bailey asked if there was anything in the terms and conditions of the Tay Cities Deal to prevent the council from using that money to set up “a state-funded competitor to privately-owned local eateries”.

Culture Perth and Kinross chief executive Helen Smout said she understood the concerns.

Culture Perth and Kinross chief Helen Smout leaning against a building
Culture Perth and Kinross chief Helen Smout.

But she said she was confident that the in-house solution was the best way to ensure the museum opens with a cafe that meets visitor expectations within the remaining time scale.

“I can assure the committee that we are putting a lot of time, effort and energy into ensuring that this will work, because none of us can afford for it not to,” she said.

Hunt is on for cafe staff

The Courier revealed Perth Museum bosses had abandoned their search for a contractor to run the attraction’s cafe in December.

Culture Perth and Kinross, in partnership with Perth and Kinross Council, instead began a hunt for its own head chef on a salary of £30,000-a-year.

The contract to run the museum cafe had previously gone out to tender twice.

Artist impression of Perth Museum in revamped Perth City Hall
Perth Museum is in the heart of the city’s Cafe Quarter. Image: Perth and Kinross Council

Bosses are now advertising for kitchen team members and cafe visitor experience assistants.

The council’s head of culture and communities Fiona Robertson confirmed the cafe would not have required public funding if museum bosses had stuck to their original plan to award the contract to an external caterer.

“The expectation was that a private operator would have met the cost of the final fit-out of the cafe,” she told the committee.

“And obviously they would have brought in their own staff team as well.

“It is fair to say we did have a lot of interest initially from potential bidders for that contract,” she added.

The museum is due to open on Easter weekend at the end of March 2024.

It is forecast to bring tens of thousands of visitors to Perth and Kinross.

Project leaders say it will boost the local economy by around £2.5 million a year.

 

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