Taunton Council throws taxpayers’ money at failing theatre

A Somerset supporter draws our attention to some extravagant expenditure at Taunton Deane Borough Council. Over the last years, they have spent £450,000 of taxpayers’ money subsidising the failing Brewhouse theatre in Taunton. Two years ago it lost its Art Council funding, but still it continued to employ 20 full time staff and 15 part time staff to manage a 350-seat theatre that rarely sold more than 100 seats at a time.

Despite having nearly half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money poured into its coffers, the Brewhouse theatre finally went into administration four months ago—and if that wasn’t bad enough, the council now wants to spend more taxpayers’ money buying the building. And yet, at the same time as it is dishing out public money to support a failing theatre, it has been less than enthusiastic over plans for a privately-funded theatre to open in the town!

A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that Taunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC) has spent £456,000 supporting the Brewhouse theatre over the past three years.  Now the council leader is arguing the case for the authority to take over the theatre completely. ‘The borough council’s bid, if accepted, will help us to safeguard the theatre building and contents as an important performing arts centre while a financially sustainable future is sought,’ says Cllr John Williams. ‘The council has no ambition to be the theatre operator but it is key that we work hard to find a sustainable and successful future for the venue.’ Really? It looks as though the council leader is doing his very best to turn himself into a theatrical impresario.

This wasteful and somewhat bizarre use of taxpayers’ money has infuriated local campaigner Jim Laflin who has backed a privately funded proposal to revive the Taunton Gaumont Palace Theatre into a major showcase for musical talent—at no cost to the local taxpayer. ‘Unfortunately there were people at the council who saw the proposed new theatre as a threat to the Brewhouse,’ said Laflin, ‘and they ignored the Project Gaumont proposal for three years despite it having the support of the Chairman of Brewhouse trustees and unanimous support at three meetings of elected councillors.’

As for the council’s plan to buy the Brewhouse, Laflin is astonished. ‘What is the point of that?’ he says. ‘Is it so that council staff can throw more council taxpayers’ money down the drain? There is no possibility that a 350-seat theatre can be commercially viable and there are already two theatres of that size in the town.’ It does make you wonder why the council leader is so wedded to spending yet more public money on a failing theatre?


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