Council explores cost-cutting measures at Floral Pavilion

Four jobs could potentially be lost as Wirral Council revealed its plans to help save the Floral Pavilion theatre.

The Floral Pavilion on Marine Promenade in New Brighton is the largest theatre venue in Wirral, able to seat over 800 people in its auditorium, with additional conference rooms, and a large multi-purpose lounge area. The theatre has been in place in some form since 1913 but was redeveloped in 2008 for £11.1m.

Despite attracting 300,000 visitors a year, the theatre has struggled to balance the books with a budgeted out-turn of £1.4m and an expected subsidy this year of £803,000. In light of this, Wirral Council has been reviewing the service since July 2023 to look at getting a private operator in.

In order to give it more time to do this, Wirral Council is expected to set aside £500,000 to subsidise the theatre until March 2025. This means the theatre will have to reduce its overall operating costs down by £303,000 over the next year.

According to a report brought before the local authority’s tourism, communities, culture and leisure committee on 7 March, the council is looking to stop in-house catering provision for events with any parties wanting to use the theatre for events needing to get their own catering. External companies will also be charged a 20% commission which is expected to bring £140,000 for the council.

This would mean the theatre’s workforce needs to be reduced by four full-time staff either through redeployment, or voluntary or compulsory redundancies. At the same time, 20 more performances will be shown at the theatre next year with 370 in total as part of a new business strategy “to actively challenge the competition in Liverpool” and increase income.

This strategy is to “decrease the amount of tribute shows and build a reputation for original music, comedy and larger touring musicals and plays.” According to the council report published before the committee, “this is now bearing fruit” with West End shows like Jane Austen, award-winning musical Blood Brothers, as well as celebrities like Jason Donovan, David Walliams, and Marc Almond.

£50,000 will also be saved by reducing agency worker costs which will see more volunteers used and reduced opening hours at the theatre’s café. The report said the theatre is expected to spend £4.5m over the next year in costs and bring in £4m in income with the council subsidising the rest.

The plans are being brought in to reduce the theatre’s costs while Wirral Council looks for a private operator to take it over in the long term. The council had previously looked to do this in 2018 but was unable to find an operator.

In October 2023, councillors asked at a private meeting for four options to be considered with all risks, opportunities and previous recommendations included as well as engagement with trade unions if people lose jobs. According to the report, the council considered full and partial closures as well as development and investment of the building but none of these options are being proposed at this stage.

If the theatre were to close, it would still cost the council £321,000 to maintain the building and one-off redundancy costs for its 55 employees are estimated to be £318,700. The report said these figures excludes any other costs that would be linked to closing which would “significantly diminish any saving associated with a closure decision,” adding the theatre has an economic value worth millions.

According to the report, “residents overwhelmingly value the Floral Pavilion and its ability to host events for the borough which otherwise would be undeliverable elsewhere. The complete removal of this provision would undoubtedly cause reputational issues for the Council.”

The report also said closure would likely impact the amount of people who visit New Brighton. If the council also decided to close it, “there is no identified plan as to what the Council would do with the asset in the event of a closure decision, whereby the asset could remain unoccupied for a significant period of time creating a reputational risk.”

The council also looked at whether to partially close the building keeping its theatre and bar open. It said stopping dining, catering, and conferencing would reduce the subsidy needed for the theatre but could have a negative impact on ticket sales.

While this option could risk the council’s reputation and staff would need to be reduced as a result, it is “realistic and deliverable”. However, the council is not recommending this along with two other options considered for commercial redevelopment and looking at moving other council services into the building at this stage.

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