More details of Bridgend “Cultural Trust” revealed

                                                             (Pic: onehistoricgarden.co.uk)


As you can probably tell, the election’s the only game in town at the moment. I’m sure many of you are as bored with that as I am but it means it’ll probably be quiet on here for a few weeks.

Nonetheless, there’s some movement on the future of cultural services in Bridgend county.

As I covered earlier this year (Libraries, Bus Cuts, School Moves & Parc Slip II), Bridgend Council (BCBC) are in the process of “outsourcing” cultural services to a new charitable not-for-profit body. Further details of the business case for the trust will be provided to BCBC’s Community Renewal Committee early next week (pdf).

As a reminder, the services that would be run by the new trust include:

  • Libraries
  • Community Centres
  • Community Arts Projects
  • Theatres (including Porthcawl’s Grand Pavilion)
  • Bryngarw House & Country Park
  • Adult Learning

Local authorities are legally obligated to provide library services. The Grand Pavilion is said to attract around 118,000 visitors each year and is worth £6million to the local economy, while Bryngarw Country Park attracts 200,000 visitors. There was discussion about outsourcing or selling off Bryngarw House long before the trust proposal, and it remains a popular venue for events, in particular weddings.

BCBC’s Cabinet agreed that the above services would transfer to the responsibility of the not-for-profit trust in October 2015. Over the last few weeks, BCBC have started the process of recruiting trustees to form the bulk of trust’s board.

With a target of £625,000 in cuts needing to be made to cultural services, BCBC were presented with three alternative options to consider.

1. Do Nothing – BCBC currently subsidises the services listed above to the tune of £3.9million a year. If they had maintained services as they were, any cuts would’ve had to have been passed on to other council departments.

2. Cuts to services – In order to meet savings targets, options here included the closure of the Grand Pavilion, closure of libraries and ending grants to Maesteg Town Hall. There would’ve inevitably been staff redundancies too.

3. Service efficiencies – It’s said this would’ve been “difficult to deliver” without significantly impacting the quality and range of services. BCBC had already reached the limit of efficiency savings in previous years, and the only other option was moving on to broader cuts like library closures.

In the end, BCBC opted to go for a non-for-profit delivery model via a trust. Certain models of not-for-profit companies have tax benefits while at the same time giving the trust the freedom to deliver services as they see fit which, it has to be said, includes delivering services on a more commercial basis.

In addition to cultural services, two disability work programmes – B-Leaf and Wood-B, both based at Bryngarw Park – will also be run by the trust.

In total, the creation of a not-for-profit cultural trust could save BCBC £633,000 – slightly more than their target.

Some other fine details of the trust include:

  • It’ll have a contract to manage services for 20 years; this is said to be long enough to enable the trust to establish itself and seek external funding (presumably from the likes of the Welsh Government and National Lottery).
  • The trust will be required to deliver a certain standard of service, including things like minimum opening hours and meeting certain quality standards.
  • BCBC will set the prices and these can’t be changed without their consent.
  • BCBC will still be able to use facilities during emergencies etc. All buildings will have to be used for the purposes they were designed for.
  • BCBC will remain responsible for maintenance of buildings and replacements (where necessary).
  • Staff will transfer to the trust and the trust will become an “admitted body” for pension purposes, meaning that AFAIK staff will remain part of the Local Government Pension Scheme.

None of this means services would be 100% protected. The trust will be as affected by the economy, cuts and “rationalisation programmes” as any council department would. A draft plan for the future of library services is already being worked on, meaning smaller and/or lesser-used libraries could still be at risk despite the trust.

Owen