Action plan to rescue trio of Leeds cultural gems

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THREE of Leeds’s cultural gems could be handed over to a private commercial operator to manage in the wake of financial problems and a recent taxpayer-funded bailout of the much loved Grand Theatre.

Senior councillors will this week debate a possible “new start” for the theatre, along with the City Varieties and Hyde Park Picture House, which are all run by the same umbrella company, the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Trust Ltd.

All three institutions are a massive part of the city’s arts heritage. The Grand dates from 1878, the City Varieties music hall from 1865, and the Hyde Park Picture House - the city’s only arthouse cinema - celebrates its centenary in November.

A meeting of the council’s cabinet will consider radical new proposals which would see “decisive action” being taken on the future of the company.

Among the options being tabled is handing the running of the three institutions over to a private commercial operator.

Also being considered is the possibility of moving the whole management of the institutions in-house to the council, or moving to a single independent trust.

The YEP revealed last month that Leeds City Council was stepping in to bail out the troubled Grand to the tune of £653,000, in the wake of major funding problems and a continuing investigation into alleged fraud and misappropriation of funds at the famed institution.

A report to be presented to the decision-making executive board on Wednesday lays out various options.

It stresses that the three institutions are “distinct cultural venues” in the city with hugely successful productions and shows under their belt, but with “significant” financial issues to deal with.

The report says the Grand particularly has a “very significant position as one of the country’s most popular receiving houses”, but adds: “Notwithstanding the success of the company in terms of its programming, ongoing financial returns have demonstrated that it is not operating within its available resources. Consecutive years of significant deficit have exhausted its reserves and has required the council to increase its grant to the company.”

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s crunch meeting, councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “The time is right to review how we manage some of the best cultural assets in the city.

“We’ll be examining the options available to us very carefully so that the most effective model of operation is adopted.

“The Grand plays an incredibly important role in the city’s history and we’re keen to ensure that future generations can enjoy and benefit from its rich and diverse programme.”

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Date: 11th November 2017. 'Picture James Hardisty. The 'Leeds Grand Quarte in New briggate. Pictured The Howard Assembly Room at Opera North.

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