Theatres handed £400k bailout as cash crisis grows

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FEARS were growing today for the future of two of Edinburgh's biggest theatres after the city council had to step in with a £400,000 bailout.

&#149 Crowds have dipped at the Festival Theatre, despite plays like The Secret Garden

The Festival City Theatres Trust, which runs the Festival and King's theatres on behalf of the council, was given an advance of next year's grant funding from city chiefs to pay its bills in the coming months.

The emergency deal, which took place without approval by councillors, has raised concerns about the future of the trust, as well as fears that the popular venues could have to be sold off.

It is understood that talks are taking place between the trust and council chiefs about how to tackle its financial crisis.

One trustee on the Festival City Theatres Trust board said: "All board members are concerned about the finances of the trust, they are in a precarious position. At the moment, nothing is being ruled out."

The Evening News revealed earlier this month that the trust has moved to slash the King's programme from 24 weeks a year to only 15 weeks in 2011-12. It is also looking to save 300,000 through making staff redundant.

Industry insiders fear that the crisis could lead to the two theatres, which both require investment, being sold off on the cheap to the private sector.

Council chiefs have not formally told any councillors that they needed to give the trust more than half of its 769,576 grant months in advance.

Concerns have been raised about why the culture and leisure committee, which has seen two meetings cancelled and will go five-and-a-half months without a meeting, has not met to discuss the problems.

Councillor Gordon Buchan, culture and leisure spokesman for the Conservative group on the city council, said: "I think we need to look closely at what the trust's plans are and they need to be looking at their proposals for the future. I am concerned that we have not had a culture and leisure committee meeting, where some of these issues could have been discussed. It is only right that we have to ask questions."

Council chiefs are known to have concerns about the way the trust is managed and why it continues to lose money.

The two theatres have seen audience numbers plummet by 15 per cent in the last year.

A city council spokeswoman said: "The council acknowledges the challenges the trust has been facing, which is why an early apportionment of grant was approved. We will of course work closely with the trust to ensure that the business model going forward is both appropriate and robust."

A spokeswoman for the Festival City Theatres Trust said: "We requested a partial advance of 400,000 in view of the tough trading conditions over the winter season. The payment was received this week, a month earlier than usual."

Financial woes engulf King's renovations

A MULTI-million-pound revamp of the King's Theatre has been delayed and scaled back as a result of the financial crisis at the trust that runs it.

A crunch meeting between city council officials and trust chiefs has resulted in a commitment to press ahead with a 2.6 million revamp in September, five months later than scheduled.

However, no funding has been guaranteed for 3.4m of further works and they are to be mothballed indefinitely. The King's project had already been scaled back from a 12m scheme when the council opted to focus funding on the Assembly Rooms instead.

The work will include improvements to the stonework outside the building and improved air conditioning.