Services under review as council tackles coronavirus shortfall

Tamworth Borough Council is facing significant financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as we seek to protect vital services to the people of Tamworth, while supporting the most vulnerable in our community.

The global crisis is projected to cost the council £2.5m, on top of existing financial pressures, but this could be much worse depending on the ongoing fall-out from the pandemic.

The worst affected area is our arts and events service, including operational services delivered by the Assembly Rooms and Tamworth Castle. This has suffered a substantial loss of income resulting from the forced closure of Tamworth Assembly Rooms and Tamworth Castle, as well as the cancellation of the existing Arts & Events programme.

While some parts of the economy are slowly returning, the long-term impact on arts and entertainment, and how events will need to be delivered in the future, still remains largely unknown.

Theatres up and down the country have folded already and many more will not be reopening before the spring of next year. The majority of performers have postponed their tours until 2021, or cancelled them altogether.

Action must be taken now to minimise the ongoing cost to the council of keeping these services running while no income is being generated.

The council is therefore looking at reducing the arts and events service in a way which focuses resources on those activities which can be delivered safely under coronavirus guidelines, while pausing those which can’t.

Making this decision now will also allow the future delivery of arts and events in Tamworth to be reviewed in light of the coronavirus pandemic and what its lasting legacy will be. The reality is that our arts and events may not be the same for a very long time.

The following is now being proposed:

Tamworth Assembly Rooms

Tamworth Assembly Rooms will remain closed until next year at least, with its operations to be suspended in the meantime. We will continue to monitor and review Government guidelines and audience confidence with the aim of reopening as soon as it is both permitted and viable for us to do so. Although the government has just announced that theatres can reopen soon with socially distanced audiences, this will still not be an economically viable option for Tamworth Assembly Rooms. We know, for example, that Tamworth Assembly Rooms cannot be financially viable even with the ‘1m+’ distancing in place, due to the number of tickets that need to be sold in order to make a show viable. We therefore need to fully explore all options for how the theatre can best be utilised in these different times.

Tamworth Castle

As a museum, Tamworth Castle can now reopen and we are therefore putting all our efforts into working out how we can do this in the safest way possible to protect our staff and visitors. The plan is for the castle to reopen on August 1, but with a reduced programme of events and activities, supported by members of Tamworth’s Arts & Events team.  

A significant part of the castle’s activities is facilitating visits from schools and it is not yet known when schools will be able/willing to reinstate school trips.

However, work to create the brand new Battle and Tribute Anglo-Saxon exhibition on the top floor of the castle is continuing and will be part of an exciting re-launch of the attraction next year.

Arts & Events

Tamworth Borough Council has a fantastic regionally-renowned programme of arts and events. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing guidelines have resulted in the cancellation of a number of our planned activities this year.

Therefore, the team will now focus on organising new events as government guidelines permit, such as the drive-in cinema, in order to provide our communities with as much entertainment to enjoy safely, as possible.

The long-term future of arts and events will also need to be reviewed, depending on how guidelines and the pandemic unfold further.

These measures will result in savings to the council of more than half a million pounds over the next seven months. Unfortunately, a number of job roles will be impacted and ‘at risk’ by these proposed changes and a period of consultation is now underway.

Cllr Jeremy Oates, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for heritage and growth, said: “Tamworth Borough Council is facing significant financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and it’s likely we won’t know the full extent of its impact on the economy and council finances for some time yet. We have to prepare ourselves for the fact that difficult decisions will need to be made in the coming months and years as we seek to prioritise and protect services for the community, including the most vulnerable among us.

“We need to focus on recovery and supporting our communities to return to the ‘new normal’, including addressing the particular needs of vulnerable groups and supporting local businesses and the wider economy. This includes facilitating the safe re-opening of the town centre.

“We also need to review our budgets and spending plans to direct resources appropriately, while redesigning our services to make sure they are efficient and effective in this new way of working.

“This has forced us to look at our arts and events provision, including the Assembly Rooms and castle. The impact on these services and the theatre industry has been devastating and many theatres have gone into liquidation - including those in the West End - suffered redundancies or confirmed they will not reopen until next spring at the earliest. Just this week Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall has announced half its staff are at risk of redundancy.

“And while things are starting to move in the right direction, with the Government just today announcing that performances can take place indoors with social distancing, this will not be a financially viable option for Tamworth, or indeed many theatres, as we wouldn’t be able to sell as many tickets as needed for an event to be viable.

“In addition, the vast majority of performers and promoters have already cancelled their tours for 2020. We therefore feel we have no choice but to completely suspend operations at the Assembly Rooms, until such time as it can safely and viably reopen.

“We considered a number of options, from doing nothing to ceasing all arts and events operations, including closing both the castle and the Assembly Rooms. What we are proposing represents a preferred middle ground option which enables us to still provide the arts and events activities that are possible, while minimising the continued impact of lost income.

“This is a difficult and sad decision to make, particularly considering how the Assembly Rooms was just returning to greatness following its refurbishment, but the reality is we can’t continue to subsidise the venue while it is not generating any income. Especially at a time when the council finances are under significant pressures overall.

“By taking this action now, we can protect the most vital services, focus resources on the activities that we can safely operate, such as the castle and some events, and also protect the theatre for the longer term.

“Despite this difficult decision, we remain committed to supporting cultural and performing arts events and hope to have them back bigger and better than ever as soon as it safe and possible to do so.

“We know this coming period of uncertainty is going to be hard for everyone concerned and members of staff involved in the consultation process will be support during this difficult time.”

All those affected have been spoken to and no final decision for redundancies will be made until the consultation process has been completed.

The majority of shows at the Assembly Rooms have already been cancelled or rescheduled, but any remaining affected ticket holders will be contacted by our Box Office team in the near future.