Senior councillors questioned over Worthing Theatres’ future

The Connaught Theatre in Worthing. Picture: Worthing Theatres
The Connaught Theatre in Worthing. Picture: Worthing Theatres

Councillors uncovered the cost of a report into the impact of taxpayers’ investment in Worthing’s theatres on Thursday – just days after the town hall declined to tell the Herald.

The report claimed every pound of Worthing Borough Council’s investment in the municipal venues generated more than £7 for the local economy – but questions were raised over its validity. Click here for the full report.

After the council’s communications team failed to respond to the Herald’s call to reveal the cost of the report, the figure was outlined to the joint overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday.

Councillor Heather Mercer, cabinet member for customer services, told the committee consultants Blue Sail were paid £1,950 in 2017, with updates this year costing an extra £325.

Mrs Mercer was asked by Liberal Democrats councillor Bob Smytherman when residents could ‘expect to no longer be burdened with the £1.5million annual cost of the theatres. She said: “I am always interested in why it is that the budget book for theatres is viewed as exclusively different from any other department. I cannot get my head around why members feel that way but I will live with it and I will just take the knives out my back while I do it.”

Council leader Dan Humphreys was asked by Tory councillor Steve Waight for his long-term vision for the venues.

He said he was open to discussions with groups over the Assembly Hall but expected the Connaught and Pavilion theatres to carry on ‘firing on all cylinders’.

Chief executive Alex Bailey was later read an excerpt from last week’s Herald comment piece, which noted how the council was quick to trumpet news of the report but less swift to answer ‘difficult’ questions. Click here for our full comment piece.

He said: “I don’t know why the Herald wrote that and certainly my sense and experience has not been that senior officers and members go to ground when there are difficult questions.”