Opinion: ‘Stuck with a small town mentality’

Nick Sandford, Lib Dem Group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 9th January 2022, 12:06 pm
The Key Theatre on Peterborough's Embankment

I write this article having come straight from a discussion on the Key Theatre and Werrington Leisure Centre closures at the council’s Communities Scrutiny Committee.

The committee was in effect left impotent, as the Tory council leadership used the “special urgency provision” to stop the committee from blocking the decision and calling it in for questioning.

I argued that the decision did not involve “special urgency” in that the council has known for 25 years that the Key Theatre was losing money.

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The committee was told that “City Culture” took over the Key Theatre and leisure centres in October 2020 when the Vivacity Trust was wound up.

Apparently it then took them 13 months of “intensive review” of the finances before they realised that the Key Theatre is, allegedly, losing over £300,000 a year.

And it was all really the fault of Vivacity because of the way they managed the budgets.

The committee asked for more detailed information on these alleged losses, but were told that they may not be able to see the information as City Culture is a “private company”... albeit one that is largely funded by tax payers.

This is something we see all too often in Tory-run Peterborough. Services hived off to private companies, who can then show a distinct lack of transparency in the way they spend public funds.

For more than six months, the council has been discussing a draft Cultural Strategy, which was finally adopted in early November. The strategy talks about a need to rationalise theatre provision in Peterborough and that could include looking to secure greater private sector investment. Now we are being told the council is “in active discussion”, with a range of different providers from inside and outside the city. The question that needs to be asked (and at the meeting

I seemed to be the only one asking it) is why all this could not have happened before the closure announcement was made and staff told (just before Christmas!) that they are likely to be made redundant.

We are about to become a university city. The university campus is a stone’s throw away from the Key Theatre building. Massive amounts of public funding from the combined authority and other sources is being 
invested in our new university. Universities tend to promote culture and need facilities for lectures and for performing arts. Yet we are about to close our one publicly funded theatre in the city. I think it’s yet another example of a rapidly growing city being stuck with small town mentality.

We know that the council is facing serious financial problems.

We are asked to believe that the Tory politicians who got us into the mess are now the best ones to get us out of it. Difficult decisions and choices will probably have to be made. But it’s important that the council takes a strategic view and improves and develops service provision, rather than closing it down first and only then thinking of innovative solutions to address the problems.