Wednesday 18th October 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

Scarborough Open Air Theatre – “Blue Murder”

Blue Murder At The Scarborough Open Air Theatre

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD. Confusion surrounds the right to hold events at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre, with some parties suggesting no concerts can be held there this summer due to an oversight in the arrangement of a music license for the venue. A rather public spat between Scarborough Borough Council and Appollo Leisure has led to rumors of cancelled events, changes of venue for major artists and resignations from senior council members.

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It is always a pleasure to be able to share news of a colossal cock-up bubbling over at St. Nicholas Strasse.

Yes, folks, once again a public-spirited member of the SBC staff has provided an insight into an another astonishing example of corporate incompetence, and this time Cllr Tom FOX, that elder statesman of the Tory junta, has only himself to blame.

Readers are perhaps already aware of the Mexican stand-off between SBC and Apollo Leisure over the summer programme (or lack of!) at the Open Air Theatre (OAT). The trouble surfaced in November last year, exploding into a full-scale row at the beginning of January 2012, when the SEN ran a story claiming that SBC would be delivering its own programme for the Summer 2012 season, following reports that Apollo chairman Paul GREGG had stated that Apollo would be running only a limited series of events (no gigs yet announced), due to SBC having reneged on providing additional ‘floating’ seating, without which shows risked being financially non-viable.

According to the SEN, SBC Portfolio Holder for Tourism & Culture Cllr David Jeffels denied that SBC had made any such commitment and asserted that SBC had ‘contingency plans’ to fill any gaps in the Apollo programme.

Jeffels, remember, is the man who told Whitby Town (Parish) Council that SBC has no statutory duties in respect of tourism. Poor chap could not grasp that that makes his Portfolio a non-job. (I will come back to that).

A rather petulant war of words then ensued and – long cut short – the SEN reported, on 3rd March 2012, that SBC had announce its first three dates – and still no programme forthcoming from Apollo.

I can now reveal that David JEFFELS was not laying all his cards on the table. Truth be told, SBC Leader Cllr Tom FOX, as well as Cllrs Peter POPPLE and Norman MURPHY, had two days previously, on 1st March 2012, already received (as Cc: recipients) an email that was primarily addressed to David JEFFELS, but which, due to a simple email-addressing error – he was addressed at cllr.d.jeffels@scarborough.gov.uk (wrong) instead of cllr.David.Jeffels@scarborough.gov.uk (correct) – slipped through the net.

However, it must quickly have found its target because David JEFFELS did acknowledge the email (at 4:11pm on 3rd March 2012) with a perfunctory assurance that an investigation would be made.

The email, from a member of the public, explicitly gave the Council the heads up on a mountain of legal problems they were running into with the OAT by posing the following questions:

  • a) how does SBC propose getting round the reality that they have a long term agreement in place with Apollo to operate the OAT site?
  • b) the reality that SBC has no current licences to operate public performances at that site?
  • c) is SBC proposing making further payments to Apollo that would enable the Council to put on events – but under the Apollo Licences banner, and if so, how much are these going to cost the tax payers of Scarborough?
  • d) would the Council be liable to pay compensation payments to Apollo if they just ignore the operating rights granted to Apollo and put on Council arranged shows?

as well as pointing out some outstanding Planning considerations regarding finishing times of events.

Nevertheless, over the next couple of months, SBC announced a series of Council-run dates (including Olly Murs, JLS, Dionne Warwick, John Barrowman, Russell Watson and Alexandra Burke) and, unsurprisingly, David Jeffels seems to have forgotten all about these very pertinent concerns.

Aftershock: David JEFFELS was booted out of the cabinet last week.

Now join the dots . . .

On Saturday 19th May 2012, at 10:20am [note the time] the same member of the public again emailed the Council, this time addressing Leader Cllr Tom FOX directly. It is a lengthy message so presently I will summarise it, for the sake of brevity. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that it raises very pertinent questions regarding the legality of SBC’s Licensing procedures.

But first, this;

at 11:16am [note the time] the SEN published the following snippet:

  •  “Concern at ‘belated’ theatre licence move”
  • Dionne Warwick will take to the Open Air Theatre stage on June 6, with John Barrowman on June 21.
  • Olly Murs’ sell out show will delight crowds on July 15 and tenor Russell Watson will perform on August 4. JLS and Alexandra Burke will play on August 18.

Curious, indeed. Just a repeat of the already-announced gigs. No mention at all of the ‘license move’ referred to in the headline.

Then, looking down to the comments section, we find, at #6 (could that be the same member of the public yet again, perhaps?)

Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 02:21pm [note the time] (my emphasis in bold):

  • Just to fill in the gaps. The query was how can SBC as owners of the OAT, unilaterally assume the role of organiser of future events, then arrange and sell tickets for concerts, and all this done before they have applied for a premises licence for that venue? Like it or not, I believe that Apollo still has the required licences! To compound that, it is also SBC that is responsible for monitoring events in the interests of the general public – e.g. ensuring the rights of neighbours of this venue. There has to be a conflict of interests. Furthermore, as the applicant is the Council, all members of the Licensing sub Committee are also the members of the body submitting the application. With the sequence of events as they have taken place, an impartial sub committee seems an impossibility as we have a situation where existing commitments pronounced by the Council suggest that the outcome of the meeting is been pre determined.:

Let us now return to that summary of the second email of 10:20am that morning. Here it is:

The point at issue is that the premises licences for the 2012 season are held NOT by SBC, but by Apollo. Normally, the Council could simply grant licences to itself in respect of the dates, but the record shows that on 23rd March 2012, Full Council voted on a motion proposed by FOX and seconded by JEFFELS that the Council assume responsibility for booking this summer’s OAT gigs. This almost certainly constitutes a pre-determination by Full Council to the effect that the necessary licences would be sure to materialize – and therefore Councillors of the Licensing Committee (who had already voted in Full Council) must thus be debarred from hearing the Licensing application. This problem is compounded by the fact that SBC has not only gone ahead booking acts, but has made much of it in press releases, thus treating the Licensing issue as a foregone conclusion. In short, it looks as though SBC may not be in a position to licence itself!

All this comes on the day following SBC Licensing Officer Una FAITHFULL’s report to the Licensing Committee ahead of its scheduled meeting on 28th May 2012 to hear the Licensing Application. Someone must have given the SEN the nod that the Licensing hearing looked dodgy. That is reflected in that “Concern at ‘belated’ theatre licence move” headline – but then strings must have been pulled, because the story has been withdrawn and the innocuous none-news of the artistes and dates is all that remains of it.

The giveaway comes in Ms FAITHFULL’s report, which includes the following ‘wriggle’:

  • 4.6 Members of the Licensing Sub-Committee have stated that they have a personal and prejudicial interest in this application due to the Council being both applicant and landowner. Accordingly Members individually applied to the Council’s Standards Committee requesting a discretionary dispensation to allow them to deal with the application.
  • 4.7 On Friday 11 May 2012 the Standards Committee considered the applications and granted a dispensation to each individual Member. Information concerning the Standards Committee meeting is available on the Council’s website : www.scarborough.gov.uk
  • 4.8 It should be noted that the dispensation is granted in relation to the interest which arises from the Council being applicant and landowner only. Any other personal/prejudicial interest must be dealt with in the usual manner.
  • 4.9 The dispensation is operative until the Sub-Committee have fully determined this application.

Clearly, any ‘other‘ must necessarily include the matter of all Councillors having carried a motion to run the gigs; this is irrefutable evidence of predetermination. Ms FAITHFULL’s carefully worded ‘disclaimer’ neatly evades that.

And now I have received ‘inside’ information that the Dionne Warwick gig on Wednesday 6th June 2012 is expected to be transferred to the Spa. I wonder why? Allegedly, SBC are blaming the weather. But it does seem to suggest that SBC have belatedly realized that the Licensing Committee meeting on 28th May 2012 will not be able to address the License application.

Where will this leave SBC in relation to its contractual obligations to Dionne Warwick, who may well be less than pleased about a change of venue? Might she pull out? Is that what SBC wants? Have ticket sales been so poor? Surely, a loss-maker is the last thing SBC needs? That would show the Head of Tourism & Culture Brian BENNETT in a very poor light.

My ‘insider’ also tells me that Brian BENNETT has been fighting to hold onto his job after a series of lies, cock-ups, complaints and abysmal budget shortfalls. Was it he who negotiated this extraordinary contract that allows Apollo to pass their OAT contract over to (of all people) Benchmark (of Sands infamy) – subject to SBC’s consent? Was it he who empty-promised the ‘floating’ seating to Apollo? You think probably so? Me Too!

And why has his second-in-command Jeremy HARTHILL jumped ship – reputedly to join Sheffield International Ventures Ltd., who are tipped to have won (at Apollo’s expense) the tender bid to take over Scarborough Spa and Whitby Pavilion? Who now holds the premises licence for the Spa?

Stay with us for the next nail-biting installment!

Can Tom FOX keep his head – when all around him are losing theirs, and blaming him (as Kipling has it) – or has he already blown it?

In my view, there is a House of Cards on St Nicholas Strasse. And the winds of change are freshening . . .

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