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Written - Wales Millennium Centre

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Alun Ffred Jones, Minister for Heritage

The purpose of this statement is to provide Members with a further report on developments concerning the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC).

On 9 December the Audit Committee published its report on the Funding for the Wales Millennium Centre.  Members will wish to note that the Welsh Assembly Government has accepted all of the recommendations in the report and our response has now been placed on the Assembly Commission’s website.  I am pleased to say that the response highlights that action has already been taken to implement the Audit Committee’s recommendations and to rectify the deficiencies in the monitoring of the Centre during its first two years of operation identified by the Wales Audit Office.

One of the Audit Committee’s recommendations was that the Government should reconsider whether responsibility for the funding and monitoring of the Centre should transfer from the Welsh Assembly Government to the Arts Council of Wales.  Our response makes clear that we accept that recommendation.  I will be consulting the Arts Council for Wales and the Centre before coming to a final view on this matter.

The Government’s decision will be able to draw upon the outcome of the independent review we have commissioned of WMC’s governance arrangements.  Our intention to undertake the Review was announced when the revised funding arrangements for the Centre were put in place in November 2007.  The review was an integral part of the due diligence procedures to which the Welsh Assembly Government is committed when investing substantial sums of public money in a project of this nature.   The review by David Pratley Associates has now been undertaken and I expect to receive the report and recommendations shortly.

Our decision on where the funding and monitoring responsibility should lie will also be informed by a comprehensive analysis of the Centre’s long term capital needs.  The Wales Millennium Centre building itself is now established as a symbol of modern Welsh culture.  I am committed to working with the Centre to safeguard the considerable investment of public money in the building and ensure that it continues to provide a safe and accessible environment for visitors, performers and staff.   I have, therefore, agreed that a review should be undertaken of the Centre’s long term capital needs.  In the short term I have allocated £230,000 of capital expenditure for essential health and safety, accessibility and business continuity projects in the current financial year.  

I am pleased to be able to report that the WMC has met or exceeded the vast majority of the challenging performance targets which our new funding agreement established for 2008.  In the current economic climate it was particularly encouraging that the WMC exceeded expectations for attendances at the Donald Gordon Theatre and for the number of casual visitors to the Centre. Since the Centre opened over 5 million visitors have gone through its doors. I am also pleased that in 2008 WMC won the hotly contested Theatrical Management Association’s Most Welcoming Theatre Award, the theatre industry’s Oscars. The achievement of the award after only three years is something that we in Wales should celebrate.

I also welcome the fact that WMC has developed partnership arrangements with other venues – and in particular with Galeri in Caernarfon and the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.  Working with WNO and Creative and Cultural Skills WMC has also created two new apprenticeship opportunities to enhance Wales’ arts skills base.  I am pleased to report that the “creative vision” agreed between the WMC and its resident organisations is already  generating a range of collaborative projects involving those organisations.  It is hugely encouraging that the BBC National Orchestra of Wales has now joined the ranks of those partner organisations having moved into its new rehearsal base in the Hoddinott Hall.  And I am sure that we are all looking forward to welcoming the National Urdd Eisteddfod to the Wales Millennium Centre in May.