Trio of Leeds arts venues set to break away from council control

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THREE flagship cultural venues in Leeds are set to break away from council control following a period of financial turmoil which was compounded by a major investigation into alleged fraud.

Management arrangements at the Leeds Grand, the City Varieties and the Hyde Park Picture House are being overhauled.

The trio of venues are run by an umbrella company called the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd (LGTOH), which is wholly owned by Leeds City Council.

However a report to be presented to the council’s cabinet next week recommends that the LGTOH board is “restructured to become a fully independent charitable trust”. Although the council would still be a major backer of its work, the representation of councillors on the board would also be significantly reduced.

The report to the executive board says the changes come “on the back of the company reporting significant annual deficits in recent years”.

It adds that “strenuous efforts” have been made recently to improve the financial position, and this has seen “some very significant improvements”.

“The latest financial reports indicate the potential for a break-even position for the current financial year,” the report says.

“Despite this positive progress, a number of longer term financial issues are still to be fully resolved including the significant maintenance investment needed.”

The report concludes that a breakaway from the council would “empower” the new management, allowing them to “forge ahead and operate as efficiently as possible”.

“LGTOH’s mission has always been to provide the very best theatre experience for its audiences, its visiting companies and valued partners,” it says.

“This recommendation will deliver the autonomy the theatre requires to continue to make this a reality.”

However it is also acknowledged that the council’s ongoing support is “essential” during the transition, and there is a need to “continue to maintain a positive and productive relationship thereafter”.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “The council is determined that the three wonderful venues that form part of LGTOH remain in the public sector and have the best possible structure in place to build on their already strong base and meet with real confidence the variety of challenges that lay ahead.

“While there is no doubt that this new approach will, if given the go-ahead, offer a change in how the company is managed, what will not alter in any shape or form is the council’s continuing commitment to both support and protect them in the future.

“We believe these recommendations offer this security and also an opportunity for these undoubted jewels in our city to really prosper and move to a new level of success.”

As previously reported in the YEP, the trio of venues has undergone a turbulent year. Major losses incurred by alleged fraud led to the council bailing out the umbrella firm to the tune of more than £650,000.

>A man has denied defrauding LGTOH of more than £178,000 and will stand trial at Leeds Crown Court in June. Peter Alp, 52, of Herne Bay, Kent, is accused of submitting 54 false invoices between 2011 and 2013. Dean Oates, 45, from York, admitted fraud in relation to the same case at a previous hearing and is also due to be sentenced in June.