Statement on the Beacon

Today the Council agreed to support the Beacon Arts centre. Below are my closing remarks on why voted to Save the Beacon.

Thank you provost.

As everyone is aware this is a decision that has attracted a lot of attention in the press and online.
In times of plenty it is easy to commit money to projects in Inverclyde. However it is in times such as now when council services face unprecedented pressure that decisions to spend money RIGHTLY come under public pressure.

As we are aware there is vocal public opposition to this proposal. On Tuesday of this week I was happy to receive a petition from the ‘ no to funding the Beacon Campaign’ not because I supported the campaign but I think it is essential for local democracy that when the very people we represent wish us to know their view – considering the effort they’ve went to – it is only right that we listen to every viewpoint we are afforded.

In December the Council were first made aware in writing that the Beacon needed our support. Money could have been agreed to have been handed over there and then.
However, the SNP Group had serious concerns about agreeing to such level of support without carrying out the sort of scrutiny that has been conducted in the last month.

Let it be clear, when we as a council come under pressure from opposing viewpoints on a decision it makes the decision we come to a better decision. Therefore I would thank everyone that has contacted me via email, on facebook or spoke to me in person. A lot of opinions have been expressed.

The SNP Group made the following points of view crystal clear:

• We said that for the Council to consider supporting the Beacon then wholesale change was required to how the Board and the Governance of the Beacon were conducted. This change we called for has happened and we welcome this.

• We stipulated that if the council were to provide such high level support then we must be ensured that the Beacon has a business plan fit for purpose. This stipulation has been met.

• We listened to many people in the community that said the Beacon hadn’t worked for them and that community groups felt excluded and that the Beacon was not all inclusive.

I met with the Chairman of the Beacon and told him that this aspect is key. For the Council to give the Beacon over a million pound then we need to be assured that The Beacon is not just a building for the few but a centre for all of Inverclyde that everyone feels is open to them. It must be seen as a community asset. I am confident this message has well and truly been understood and we will see this happen.

However all that said, I’m sure that questions will be asked; is this value for money? What do the council get out of this? Is this money well spent when vital services are under threat? All good questions.

That is why the SNP group have spent the last month putting a lot of thought into todays decision. In the last 3 years over £1million pound has been leveraged into Inverclyde from Creative Scotland thanks to the Beacon, around the figure being asked for today. Over the next 10 years based on those numbers we could see another £4million of investment in various projects.
Creative Scotland have recently confirmed £600,000 over 3 years. That will be over £2million to Inverclyde over the next 10 years.

So after carefully looking into the whole situation and considering whether today’s contribution being asked for makes sense, perhaps we should consider that if we don’t make it Inverclyde could lose out on over £6million in the years to come if the Beacon isn’t there.

Obviously as a council we must consider regeneration. At this stage can I welcome the approach the council and the Scottish Government have taken and shown again what we can achieve by working in partnership. It wasn’t long ago we came together to help secure the Future of Fergusons shipyard and today thanks to this collaborative approach the Scottish Government are again supporting Inverclyde’s attempts to regenerate the area. I personally think that if the Beacon were to close down it would send out an unacceptable message that our attempt to Regenerate Inverclyde has failed. Just how damaging could this be to future attempts to attract private sector inverstment? We’ve heard from the council’s Director of Regeneration just how difficult this would be.

I would in summary Provost ask the council to consider a final important issue to me. I recently visited the Beacon and spoke to some of their staff. These are decent hard working people. If the Beacon closes their jobs go. Just how much money does 60 people going to the job centre cost the local economy? These are people that live and work in Inverclyde that spend their money in Inverclyde.

Of course it wouldn’t just be these jobs under threat it would be jobs in related industry who I’ve also spoke to. Local hotels who do well during large productions, local supply chains who work with the Beacon and the various knock on effects there could be.

This has been a tough decision but as I said I welcome the debate, without it we wouldn’t have came to such an informed decision and our decision would have been poorer for it.

Therefore Provost I will be supporting the recommendation before us today from council officers to approve the funding support package.

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