"Worsening" performance of Harrogate Convention Centre remains a concern

Harrogate Convention Centre.
Harrogate Convention Centre.
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An update on Harrogate Borough Council's financial situation has revealed "a much improved position" at the end of 2018, but concerns remain over the "worsening" performance of Harrogate Convention Centre.

The quarterly update on the authority's general funds finances presented to overview and scrutiny committee members on Monday showed a forecast overspend of a mere £1000 - a £372k reduction from the overspend predicted at the last update in November.

Counter-balancing the improved financial performance were several under performing sectors including the convention centre, the council's service finance manager Gillian Morland told councillors.

“There are a couple of items that go against those improvements, (such as) the worsening of the position of HCC," she said.

That was all that was discussed in the public arena though, with councillors voting to take the conversation regarding the centre into exempt session, citing commercial sensitivities.

The publicly available report stated that the convention centre was now forecasting financial pressures of £622k - a deterioration of £159k from what was last reported in November 2018.

Overview and scrutiny committee councillors in November expressed their concerns about the centre's underperformance, stemming from a significant shortfall in lettings income.

However, last year's annual report to Harrogate Borough Council outlined positive new business gains as well as plans to ramp up efforts to regain lost business and encourage more repeat business.

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The convention centre is one of the region’s biggest draws and brings an estimated £60m to the local economy yearly.

Outside of the convention centre, councillors on Monday were told that several other items were key in council's improved financial position.

Among them was a £268k business rate saving which was previously set aside to cover a predicted shortfall in the future, but had now been returned to the budget.

A predicted shortfall in parking income at Harrogate's off-street parking also shrunk from the £242k predicted in November, to £127k.

The council also benefited from a windfall of planning application contributions, which ballooned from £180k reported in November to £295k in the most recent quarter.

There was mixed news on the performance of the Turkish Baths, which is expected to have a shortfall of income of £258k - although £153k of that is due to the extended 10 week closure of the facility for refurbishment.

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The report showed that, by the end of quarter three, 10,155 visitors attended the Turkish Baths, with 3,761 purchasing treatments.

Coun Marsh commented that she was "disappointed" that there had been a significant underperformance in massage and beauty income at the baths, largely stemming from a number of therapist positions not being filled.

However, Ms Morland said "things are looking promising" regarding the vacant roles, with interviews held in January and the jobs in the process of being offered to successful applicants.

She added she was positive they'd soon be at their full contingent of 12 full-time equivalent therapists.

There was also a forecast shortfall of $42k in bereavement services income - which translated to a fall in the number of burials and cremations done at Stonefall Cemetery over the last quarter.