In an almost unanimous vote, Penarth Town Council’s policy and finance committee last night passed a motion of ‘support’ for Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd [a.k.a. ‘PACL’] , the struggling not-for-profit company/”charity” which holds a 125-year lease on Penarth Pier Pavilion and its integral 68-seat Pavilion Cinema.
The councillors’ vote came at the end of a difficult month for PACL – which had come under heavy criticism after announcing that it would be – as from March 6th – closing Penarth Pier Pavilion for 3 days a week – and shutting-down the Pavilion Cinema completely.
Two packed public meetings were held in the town on March 20th to discuss the situation, and an on-line petition garnered 1,600 signatures within a week – protesting against the Pavilion Cinema closure .A further public meeting is due to be held at All Saints Church on April 5th organised by local PR executive Nicki Page- who said she had been banned from Penarth Town Council’s HQ at West House.
The Pier, and the Pier Pavilion, are owned by the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Penarth Town Council’s only connection with the Pier Pavilion is that it has a nominated representative on the board of directors of its leaseholders – Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd [PACL] . That representative is currently the Mayor of Penarth, Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines).
Last night, as chairman of the Town Council’s policy and resources committee, Cllr Cuddy raised the issue of Penarth Pier Pavilion informing councillors that a “motion had been advised to him” and he invited the committee to discuss the matter.
Cllr Cuddy explained that people had seen “the discussions by the interested public in the town – and it behoves, I think, the Town Council to reflect on that – as the ‘custodian of place’ here”. Despite being a member of the PACL board, Cllr Cuddy said he could participate in the discussion but declared that he would not take part in any vote on the proposed motion of support.
Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines) who (until he abruptly resigned in February) was the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s representative on the board of PACL, said he would be proposing the motion .
Cllr Roberts said “There has been an awful lot of fuss recently about the closure of the cinema and also that the Pavilion will now only be open four days a week ” . Cllr Roberts said he was no longer a member of the board, so he did not know what the financial position of the company was, but it was “ reasonable to believe” that PACL was going through a “difficult period” .
[ PDN Note: Cllr Roberts ceased to be a director on February 6th 2017. In the Pilot public meeting on March 20th, the audience heard that the directors of PACL had not been provided with copies of the PACL management accounts].
Cllr Roberts said “At times like this it is important that we offer our support to the Pavilion” – and he had therefore written a motion for consideration by the Penarth Town Council’s policu and finance committee. The motion read as follows :-
“Penarth Town Council appreciates the ambition and work that Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd has undertaken in such a huge task to bring Penarth Pier and Pavilion back into public use. We understand the importance of the Pavilion to our residents and would like to thank PACL for their on-going hard work and commitment in bringing the Pavilion back to life. During any temporary difficulties PACL may be experiencing, as the Pavilion evolves from an innovative project to a permanent asset, Penarth Town Council will offer its support and do all in its power to keep the Pavilion open for the people of Penarth’s continued pride and enjoyment”
Cllr Roberts said he had seen implied – or inferred – criticism of PACL, but he considered that the council should “appreciate what a fantastic job they’ve done”. – and reminded members that the Pavilion had been “an eyesore for many, many years”. [i.e: prior to the £4,200,000 restoration in 2013 – which was funded entirely by public money] .
Another former town council representative on the PACL board – Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell) – said he wanted to speak in support of Cllr Roberts’s motion. Cllr Courtney said he had attended the public meeting at the Pilot Pub on March 20th which had been held in a very helpful, constructive vein and had been devoid of any “rancour and rant”. It had also reflected the depth of feeling within the community of Penarth for “this very prized civic asset “. He seconded Cllr Roberts’s motion.
However Cllr Courtney was the only member of the council to raise a caveat about the situation . He said wanted to draw to the attention of councillors to what he called “the depth of the challenges that face PACL – or any subsequent body which happens to run the Pavilion”. He said it had been a couple of years since he had been a trustee on the board of PACL , but drew the committee’s attention to the Report and Accounts of Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd [ a.k.a. PACL] for the year up to the 31st of December 2015 in which the PACL trading subsidiary “PPP” ( standing for Penarth Pier Pavilion Ltd) had reported a loss of over £67,000.
PDN NOTE: It is the PACL subsidiary company – Penarth Pier Pavilion Ltd – which actually operates the Pier Pavilion, along with the Pavilion Cafe and the Pavilion Cinema (which has now been closed). PACL’s most recent accounts say that “In the year ending 31 December 2015, the trading subsidiary Penarth Pier Pavilion Limited made a loss of £67,435 and is being supported by the charity. The combined business plan in place for the charity, and its trading arm Penarth Pier Pavilion Limited, forecasts a small surplus for 2016 – but management information to date show the group to be behind budget.” .
Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said “I think it’s important that the Town Council does support the continuation of the Pier Pavilion in whatever format it is likely to take in the future ” . He also thought it important for councillors to support Cllr Roberts’s motion “ to ensure we are doing our duty as a council”.
Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said he supported the views expressed by members . One thing that worried him was that the Town Council was being drawn into the debate – and that the council was, by implication, also being seen as responsible for running the Pavilion. “Apart from having a trustee on the board [of PACL] we have no other financial implication. The council had a vital interest in the Pavilion but did not have a “controlling interest”. PACL – he noted – “is a registered charity and they operate their own system. It’s not a council-run operation” .
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell) said he had not spoken anywhere about the situation since the Pavilion Cinema had been – temporarily – closed, but he was sure a lot of people had been disappointed.
Cllr Wilson said there had been comments that the cinema had been “in competition” [with the Town Council’s own Live Event Cinema] . Cllr Wilson said he wished to state “publicly and factually” that the Paget Rooms [the venue of the council’s own Live Event Cinema ] “is not in competition with the Pavilion Cinema“. He said the council was there to complement and support PACL. PACL’s charitable status meant it had special obligations, duties and responsibilities to be fulfilled and “restrictive funds” which limited what could be done with them. The public needed to understand it was a complex operation .
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) continued the same theme. He alleged that there had been what he called “misinformation” about Penarth Town Council’s role as far as the Pier Pavilion Cinema was concerned . He said that when the councillors had been looking at setting up the Event Cinema in the first place, they had looked at that time at the requirements of the National Theatre and “part of that was the size of audience – which the pier were unable to provide “. The Pier Pavilion – he said – was “not a consideration as an Event Cinema”.
Cllr Thomas said the Live Event Cinema had been “complementary” to the Pavilion Cinema and not been in competition with it – and went on to say that the Pier and Pier Pavilion “are huge assets to the town . They’re recognised as being a major draw for visitors plus a source of pride for residents”
Cllr Gwyn Roberts said that “contrary to popular belief” Penarth Council had “worked with PACL when setting up the Live Event Theatre – and we only went ahead to do it after PACL had decided it was not practical. We worked with PACL, we complement them and PACL were fully aware of it before we did it”
[ PDN Note: For clarification, PDN is asking Penarth Council to provide historic minutes of any discussion in any council meeting about the suitability or otherwise of the Pavilion Cinema as a venue for the Town Council’s Live Event Cinema. The council’s publicly declared motivation for setting up the Live Event Cinema at the Paget Rooms was to increase the revenue of the council-run Paget Rooms].
Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said “The situation is very fluid at the moment obviuosly. The motion that we’ve got before us tonight clearly states the council’s position and I think that’s really where we ought to leave it for the time being. Let’s see what happens on that basis and we can provide support as and when it’s required.”
Cllr Rosemary Cook (Labour St Augustines) – who has announced that she will not be standing for re-election in May – said she wanted to place on record her support for Cllr Roberts’s motion.
In an additional comment, Cllr Ian Courtney said PACL was a registered charity – regulated by the Charities Commission. “It is also a company limited by guarantee and is therefore governed by legislation as enshrined in the Companies Act 2006. That should not be overlooked” .
The council them proceeded to a vote on the motion which was carried unanimously – except for the previously-declared abstention by the chairman.