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Proposed Tŷ Pawb Advisory Board ‘not a layer of red tape’ – Lead Councillor keen to keep control local

A new Tŷ Pawb Advisory Board is to be set up, with the overall aim still to hand over the running of the new ‘arts hub’ centre in a few years time.

In September it was announced that the ‘arts hub’ was not able to be put into a trust as was intended due to legal issues that could have meant a non-Wrexham trust running it (report here), and therefore was to be operated by Wrexham Council for at least three years.

The Advisory Board will be ‘developed and populated with appropriately skilled and experienced stakeholders in order to represent local involvement and make recommendations to the Council’s Lead Member and Executive Board’.

The Board is to ‘represent a fully informed, realistic and appropriate governance mechanism’.

Previously we have referenced the business plan document that pointed out possible issues with a Council run entity, including ‘inherent restrictions and burdens’ impacting decision making, and a suggestion non-Council run entities are ‘more business oriented’ and more entrepreneurial, with other ‘cultural’ benefits.

Cllr Hugh Jones, Lead Member for Communities, Partnerships, Public Protection and Community Safety, said: “It will consist of people from a broad cross section of the local community, encompassing a range of skillsets and expertise that we think are vital to make sure Tŷ Pawb will be a successful project.”

Cllr Jones explained that the Board will have the power to bring forward recommendations to the Executive Board regarding how the future running of Tŷ Pawb will be undertaken past the three years.

The places on the Board will be open to applications, and selection ‘overseen’ by a panel made up of a council officer, a lead member and various representatives from the council’s corporate and customer services and the Arts Council Wales. As well as those (unremunerated) positions, it states “The Advisory Board may invite non-Members to attend and contribute to specific agenda items as required.”

The draft Terms of Reference are in this PDF, and overview ‘job title’ style guides for each role are included in this PDF.

The intent appears to be to hand over to some kind of external entity, perhaps a trust, in three years time. We asked Cllr Jones if this was still the idea, and would this Board fit that aim.

Cllr Jones told u”, “If it is possible the ambition of the council is to have an arms length Board that would run the operation of the Tŷ Pawb, with the council owning the building.”

Speaking of the Freedom Leisure deal with the Council that encompasses running Waterworld and the like, Cllr Jones said he would see that as a ‘model’ but would want a ‘local ingredient’ in terms of any Board.

We pointed to the lines in the business plan about Trusts removing red tape and bureaucracy, and enquired if another layer of oversight and control with a new Board added to that.

Cllr Jones said “it is’t”, adding that the proposals for the Board are in alignment with the originally agreed business plan, and any costs incurred would be minimal and ‘well contained in the business plan’. Cllr Jones reiterated again that the original business plan is still being worked to.

Due to the way we get to ask questions ahead of the Executive Board, we did not have sight of the now public documents, so questioned blind off a Forward Work Programme note.

The Work Programme for the Executive Board noted the report could contain “…the revised profit and loss statement in advance of the opening of Ty Pawb in Spring 2018”. *

The report before councillors next week does state: “The underlying principles of the Fourth Street Business Plan remain unchanged, following the decision for the Council to continue to manage Tŷ Pawb” but does not have a profit and loss statement.

We asked the question on the profit and loss, with Cllr Jones telling us: “It is a minor change, but it comes back a little more beneficial. There is a lower loss in the first year than was originally predicted. It is a better picture, and we are still looking at year three to be stabilisation.”

In the context of Difficult Decisions and multi million pound council cuts the ‘arts hub’ is often cited online in comments left on social media. We asked Cllr Jones if he was aware of that, and if he still stood by his comment that part-funding the development was the ‘cost of culture’. We also asked if he would politically support funding the centre after the three years if it was not possible to externalise it as appears to be the intent’.

Cllr Jones happily replied “Yes, absolutely.”

Cllr Jones explained reasons why, stating: “The contribution Oriel Wrecsam makes to the tourist offer Wrexham has is quite significant, tourism spend in Wrexham is going up year on year, now £115m and it is having facilities like Tŷ Pawb that will contribute to that.

“Secondly it has been and is well supported by the Arts Council.

“Thirdly, with Wrexham being a pilot town for the Welsh Government Fusion Project in terms of tackling poverty through the arts and cultural sector. We can see by the work Oriel Wrecsam has been doing and that Tŷ Pawb is planning to do in terms of outreach into the local community that it fits in with that.”

“When we look at the total expenditure on arts and culture in Wrexham that has to be off set by the benefits it is delivering for the whole community.”

“We know having a significant feature like Tŷ Pawb is beneficial”, giving the example of Ruthin Arts Centre that gets around 100,000 visitors a year.

“Those people spend money in Ruthin. Some of the exhibitions in Tŷ Pawb will be of national interest and will attract significant visitors. Some of those visitors will spend money in the local economy.”

Pointing out he was not wishing to upset anyone he added: “Some may even spend money in some of the shops of the people who have criticised Tŷ Pawb.”

“Overall you have to look a the contribution of Tŷ Pawb in the whole to the quality of life and cultural life of Wrexham.”

* The Tŷ Pawb there reads Ty Pawb deliberately as we are quoting the council webpage.

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