Thursday, February 04, 2010

Cutty Sark saved (again)

Greenwich Council's cabinet committee has a meeting this afternoon (called at short notice) to agree £3m of extra funding for the Cutty Sark. I was briefed on it yesterday, and it seems there have been ongoing discussions for some time to close the remaining £12m funding gap. This will now be made up by £1m funding from the Mayor of London (thanks Boris!), £3m from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, £1m from a new trustee, £2m from planning agreements (Section 106 funds), and a £2m grant for renovating Cutty Sark gardens. If the Council agrees the extra £3m, that closes the gap.

Many people will have a sense of deja vu at headlines declaring the Cutty Sark saved, as it isn't the first time a funding gap has been identified and then closed. The extra costs and delays following the fire have had more of an impact than was first anticipated, and it is fair to say there have been question marks over the financial controls that were in place. I am reliably informed the Heritage Lottery Fund (who have provided the vast majority of the funding so far), have insisted on serious tightening up of the management of the project, and things are now much better than they were.

There are some outstanding issues, such as what Greenwich residents will get in return for the £3m the Council is putting in, and I will be exploring that at the meeting today. Below is the quote I’ve put out to the press ahead of the meeting:

Councillor Nigel Fletcher, Greenwich Conservatives’ Spokesman for Culture and Olympics, said:

“Restoring the Cutty Sark is a hugely important project for Greenwich, given its status as a world-famous tourist destination. The extra funding needed to finish the job would ideally have been found from private donations, but in the current economic climate that avenue has been all but exhausted.

“This is actually the first time Greenwich Council has provided direct financial support to the project, which demonstrates the hard work the Trust has itself done to raise funds. With the Mayor of London and Central Government now contributing to make up the shortfall, it is right we should play our part. Hard-pressed taxpayers may find it a tough pill to swallow, but pulling the plug on the project at this stage would be unthinkable.

“There are already a number of suggestions for direct benefits the Borough's residents can expect in return for this assistance, and I am pressing for an agreement that a proportion of future revenue be allocated to small-scale local heritage projects. I have already discussed that with the Trust and will be making the case for it at the Cabinet Committee meeting this afternoon.'

Update: 3.55pm: As expected, the committee (comprising Deputy Leader Peter Brooks and Cabinet Member for Culture John Fahy) agreed the grant, after briefings from the Council's Chief Executive and other senior officers. Myself and Lib Dem Councillor Paul Webbewood were in attendance to ask questions on the detail. I made the point that it is important we communicate how much of a positive impact the Cutty Sark has on the Borough, and that we make the most of the opportunities we now have as a co-funder of the project, including my suggestion that some of the revenue generated in future could be channelled into smaller heritage projects in the Borough. This is something which will now be discussed with the Trust as part of drawing up the agreement with them for the donation.

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