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Tŷ Pawb ‘performing ahead of expectations’ as revised business plan & footfall figures revealed ahead of councillor scrutiny

Councillors are set to examine the first seven months performance and financials of Tŷ Pawb next week, with details of a new in-house Council business plan being made public for the first time.

The report is being brought before the Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday after they requested an update on progress several months earlier than expected, with one councillor at the time saying: “It would be useful as members that if there is a wobble taking place, the sooner we are able to know and help rectify if possible then the better.”

This week we asked Cllr Hugh Jones, lead member for communities, partnerships, public protection and community safety, who has the project under his portfolio, if a ‘wobble’ had in fact taken place and resources were used to correct things, or if things were in fact fine with the project from the outset and it was an incorrect perception from councillors.

Cllr Jones told us: “If you look at the Fourth Street Business report predictions, our initial acceptance of those predictions, although we modified them, has resulted in the fact there was a wobble.

“It was a wobble that was inevitable as a result of where we started from, but the wobble has not impacted where we are going. We have kept the vision alive and have stuck to the vision we have had for it, we have stuck operationally to what we said we would do and we are delivering on it.”

“Yes it has taken longer than it was envisaged in the Fourth Street business plan but the financial figures, the occupancy, the throughput of people, everything shows that the increase has been steady, it has been progressive.

“Yes you might rightfully refer to it as a wobble but what the staff have done there is not change direction in any way, they have just stuck to our plan of what we wanted to deliver.”

Rebecca Lowryregeneration manager at Wrexham Council, challenged the word ‘wobble’ noting that the request from the committee came after the centre was only open for around eight weeks, and the context at the time was ‘leading to the peak’ of controversy and various reactions to issues, but she did note she thought it was a genuine attempt to be helpful.

Cllr Jones added: “It is a fair challenge, for example there was an issue around the tenancies, but we have responded. It is like any business that starts up, there are always unforeseen issues that come to light. The question is how you respond to it.”

Three documents are before the committee to help them discuss progress and the responses to any of the issues at Tŷ Pawb. The first being a normal overview report, another being a narrative report including visitor data. A third document contains a financial overview presented in a similar format to the original business plan, but contains the changes to a modified plan as the centre is now run by Wrexham Council rather than a trust.

It is publicly unclear when the business plan changed, as at the name unveiling in September 2017 the plan was noted as unchanged. The ‘Fourth Street’ business plan is one that was expected to be adhered to fully, having been referenced in that manner several times since its accidental publication in 2015.

Speaking in September 2017 when it was announced that Tŷ Pawb would remain ‘in house’ for at least three years, with Cllr Jones stating: “The business plan remains exactly the same, it is just that the management structure and the delivery will be in-house rather than in the hands of a trust.”

Commenting on the revised targets, Cllr Jones told us this week he felt Tŷ Pawb is ‘performing ahead of expectations’. Ms Lowry noted that figures had been changed by Wrexham Council in the new plan, however they were still ‘challenging’ but ‘achievable’.

Cllr Jones added: “Anyone who goes in there now sees the buzz there is, sees the number of people attending events and activities and sees the level of occupancy of the stalls”.

“For the Oriel in the last year it was operational in the Library there were 24,400 people went through, in six months just in the arts section in Tŷ Pawb there are 30,000. A huge, huge increase in the number of people who are accessing arts in Wrexham.”

Cllr Jones referred to “some challenging financial figures”, however were unable to see the data before asking questions and the reports went public at the close of business yesterday.

The headline figures in the revised financial report show the centre is on track to be in a better financial picture than predicted under the old business plan, with a £188k loss being just £173k despite the ‘wobble’.

In one of many issues being acknowledged or attributed as being down to communication failures with the public, the budgeted £139k Arts Service budget (which was being spent at the old Oriel in the Library and similar service provision historically) from Wrexham Council is clearly stated on the document. When removed from the loss figure, it effectively means Tŷ Pawb is being delivered for a predicted £33k shortfall in year one.

It is hoped that will become a surplus in following years. It was also noted that the historic and projected costs of the People’s Market in it’s latter years was not included in comparison figures.

The financial table shows the centre’s shop has had its expected revenue dropped substantially in the new plan, with the fundraising income dropping 95% to just £1,000. A possible £15k from a mobile mast has also been taken out of the plan as it appears agreement with a phone company could not be reached.

The car park is performing better than expected, with the £57k expectation growing to £88k. A ‘Touring Exhibitions’ revenue stream not in the initial plan is now included, where exhibitions curated and created locally earn revenue for the centre as they are shown elsewhere.

The rent roll has dropped in the new plan by £60k, explained as the initial plan having 100% occupancy rates with no concessions. Wrexham Council has concessions for the first two years of trading, noted as 20% for year one and 10% for year two. As we reported earlier this year a further 30% was granted due to issues during the opening period of the centre.

With full transparency Wrexham Council have noted in the document the £21k market rent listed as an ‘actual’ figure is in fact the invoiced amount, with £10.5k of that paid so far.

Overall total income has been adjusted from £481k in the original plan down £129k to £351k.

Expenditure has also decreased, with the initial plan stating a figure of £669k and the revised plan down £144k to £524k.

Perhaps reflecting the in-house savings by running things under Wrexham Council, the marketing and comms budget has dropped from £75k to £35k, ‘general maintenance and security costs’ are down £110k.

The new overhead figures also includes £60k in the budget for business rates, a figure that is possibly in excess of what will be required, although no valuation office evaluation has yet been made. If the centre had been in a charitable trust that figure would likely have been zero.

Overall that means things are £15k better off in the new in-house and revised business plan figures rather than the Fourth Street plan. Councillors had agreed to allocate £53k from the Council’s Transformation Fund to plug the gap, however due to the adjustments in the business plan, that has now reduced to £38k.

Occupancy rates for the market and food court area are also broken down, with over 85% occupancy in both Tŷ Pawb and the South Arcade by by mid October. A current snapshot is also given, stating 8/9 Island Stalls are occupied, 8/8 Perimeter Units, 3/5 Food Court units and 6/7 of the South Arcade Units are filled.

The food court is noted as verging on being 100% full with the remaining two units under offer to what appear to be Polish and Thai offerings, and are ‘part way through the unit occupation process’.

Bizarrely the report states ‘Quality Tea and Coffee is now available’ within Tŷ Pawb, when quality coffee was certainly previously available at Bl_nk C_nv_s prior to them leaving a month ago (The centre’s website still lists them as being there, complete with link to their reasons for leaving).

Footfall data is provided, however with the bolded caveat indicating the measurements are less technical than other town centre footfall figures: “Attendance figures are drawn from manual head counts taken at the main reception desk and do not allow for visitors who enter the building from other entrances and subsequently leave without passing the data collection point.”

The report notes footfall up until the end of October 2018 (7 months trading) stands at 52,787 against the full Year 1 projection in the Fourth Street Business Plan of 50,000 for the year.

The footfall is currently manually counted by staff who operate the reception at the Market Street entrance to the building. Footfall is not currently recorded for visitors entering through the North or South Arcade or from the Market Street Car Park, therefore the counted figures are assumed to be significantly less than actual visitor figures.

Electronic footfall counters at all entrances are in the process of being installed to record a more accurate count.

Below we have graphed the data provided, with the information for April containing 10,000 people on opening day alone with an extra 4,384 people attributed to April for the rest of the month.

The Dydd Llun Pawb/Everybody’s Monday project that cumulated in the opening day event had a budget of £43,000 with an additional £4,002 spent by the Council on top – of which £2,200 was on the ‘VIP’ opening event.

At the time there was criticism a potential audience was missed with no event programs circulated to the public on opening day, no data capture taking place, the centre’s website was not working and the mail out to every house in the county borough did not have some form of data capture call to action either.

It appears event figures are counted in the footfall data, with April’s specifically split to include the opening. The second largest event recorded is 6,000+ people attending Focus Wales that effectively took over the centre in May, the second largest month for visitor numbers.

The report notes: “Footfall across all areas of Tŷ Pawb has levelled out to reflect the peaks and troughs experienced across Wrexham Town Centre in general. Footfall through observed surveys indicate since April 2018 over 52,000 people have visited, shopped, attended events or engaged in activities within Tŷ Pawb.”

The report adds: “Footfall at weekends is continuing to increase specifically for days where there are a number of events arranged. Saturday 24 November 2018, 1415 visitors were recorded.”

Exhibition visitor data is also provided, with a similar ‘head count’ methodology. In the Fourth Street business plan it projected ‘between 50,000 and 100,000 arts-related visits can be expected per year’ with the 50k pa figure expected in the earlier years of the centre, with 100k a longer term possible goal.

The report tells Councillors: “Tŷ Pawb’s exhibition programme opened to critical acclaim with Is This Planet Earth, the exhibition curated by Angela Kingston attracted over 15,000 visitors across its 3- month residency. Is This Planet Earth is a touring exhibition that was initiated by the Ty Pawb team, and is now touring the country; this forms part of our revenue from exhibitions as touring partners pay a fee to host.

“Running alongside this primary exhibition Gallery 2 hosted work from a local artist Tim Pugh, Tim also ran artist in residence sessions and workshops which attracted 150 plus participants. The artist in residence programme will continue next year with a focus on upcoming exhibitions.

“The Tŷ Pawb team also ran a variety of children’s activities to support the exhibition, these activities were taken up by over 200 children and helped to begin the integration of the markets and Arts offer within Tŷ Pawb.”

The narrative report document has a large list of events, and notes: “Early July saw a significant boost in footfall and activity at Ty Pawb, largely due to a family-friendly events programme during the summer holidays” despite earlier in the document showing July being the second lowest footfall month.

We would encourage readers to scroll through the huge list of events are listed past, present and into the future towards the bottom of this document – a relief for anyone googling ‘Whats on in Tŷ Pawb’ as the official web page offered from that search only lists two events. (The report also answers the question of is Die Hard a Christmas film!).

Details of voluntary staff are also given, with 19 total active volunteers at the centre contributing 439 shifts. The report notes: “The volunteer and informal learning programme came into its own over the school summer holidays, a programme of events, which saw predominantly free family activities available every day was an offer that could not be found anywhere else in Wrexham.”

Four background papers are referenced on the report before councillors, one being this article in the Observer by their architecture critic, and a reference to the Council’s own news site that notes the centre is ‘selected as one of the 147 Regional Finalists of the Civic Trust Awards Scheme’ amongst a range of other buildings worldwide. The former is thought to have been part of a PR exercise by the architects themselves, and it is unclear if Wrexham Council or a third party paid the £250+vat fee to nominate it for the latter.

At the start of Tŷ Pawb’s life it was meant to be placed inside a trust or similar organisation, with the reasoning given that it would open up additional finance opportunities that the local authority could not access, with assurances that would be a certainty.

draft business plan for the Oriel Wrecsam and Peoples Market development accidentally leaked in 2015 (and later made available to the public here) also commented on the strength of the OW People’s Market being run as a trust.

The consultants then stated: “The research suggests that removing the restrictions and burdens that inherently come from working within a council set-up, such as bureaucracy and slower decision-making, is one of the greatest advantages of moving to a devolved model. This can directly lead to significant improvements in the speed of decision making.

“Newly gained independence from the council set-up also allows the organisation to become more business-oriented. The assets can be managed in a more entrepreneurial fashion with greater emphasis and importance placed on marketing and the ability to combine both strategic and tactical planning.”

Just over a year ago that position changed with “complexities regarding State Aid and procurement legislation” being blamed for a trust not being set up, the inference being a lack of guarantee over local control. As a result the centre is now being run by Wrexham Council, with an ‘advisory board’ being set up to input to management, Scrutiny and the Executive Board of Wrexham Council.

Wrexham.com enquired to Cllr Jones if the agendas and minutes of the Advisory Board could be made public due to the nature of the body, and were told there was no reason why not. Within 24 hours an agenda for the latest meeting was sent over, and a request has been made to make the documents available on the centre’s website.

Previously it has been indicated to Wrexham.com that if the centre was effectively profitable to Wrexham Council there would be no rush to hand over the centre to a new trust style body, however on Tuesday we asked Cllr Hugh Jones if there was a desire to still move to a trust model. Cllr Jones told us the Advisory Board had been ‘tasked’ to come forward with a future business model, and although the aim is to keep it in-house at Wrexham Council for the three years ‘if they came forward with a proposal at an earlier stage we would look at it’.

It is unclear if the centre was handed off, that would be the end of Wrexham Council’s discretionary arts & culture spending as an effective service cut, or if that money would be allocated in the longer term to support the new entity, or if new art services would be funded.

The context of the ongoing ‘Difficult Decisions’ consultations was recognised by one Officer who pondered the position if ‘nothing had been done’ in terms of the Tŷ Pawb redevelopment, and noted the current £139k arts service budget could well have been placed on recent or even current Difficult Decisions cuts lists: “We have confidence there is value being shown, the impact on people, learning skills, employment, health and well being.

“We are showing this service is paying its way, in a climate where other councils are reducing their services in this area.”

The reports are before the Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee who are meeting on Wednesday 5th December at 4.00 pm at the Guildhall. It is not expected to be webcast but is open to the public as normal.

 

Forgotten the journey the building has been on? Here is a selection of our videos, starting with a refresher of what the Peoples Market looked like on the day it closed, right through transformation to the new Tŷ Pawb opening day.







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