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Friday, 23 March 2012

£4.5 Million More Going To Operatic Tragedy

Paget-Brown playing Medici with our money
Forget about boring things like Scrutiny Committees: they are an irrelevance.
A carefully stage managed Cabinet Meeting the other night made passing reference to the Scrutiny Committee report as another £4.5 million of your council tax was pumped into Holland Park Opera until 2015.
The Dame was surprised to hear from Opera Buff that tucked away-so no one would notice-(except the wily Dame) was a 'negotiation' with Newco. Why a 'negotiation'? Who knows.... but what it concerns is the T&C's for premises and back office supply. This carefully concealed subsidy is worth another £1 million every year. Is it worth it?One critic says avoid

In a decade, you, the taxpayer, have seen the subsidy rise from £100,000 a year to £1 million. A trajectory which mirrors, in percentage terms, Cockell's astonishing rise in allowances!
Clearly, embarrassed by this frittering of our money, Cllr Paget-Brown, the hapless and mentally taxed deputy to Pooter has come up with a 'self standing company'.
The idea is to bolt the stable door to stop HPO bolting away with any more of our money. Paget-Brown is a nice chap, but has never run a business and likes the idea of being a Patron of the Arts! What our 'whiz kid' cannot grasp is that the current arrangement of support and administration by the Council is the low risk option. 
Cllr Coleridge asked the Chairman elect of the new company if the "Friends" would put more personal effort into raising money to make the company self financing. "Yes" said the Chairman elect, having to think on his feet, "We will hire a fund raiser"- at a cost of £150,000 a year!

So the cat is out of the bag. The Friends contribute £250k per year to HPO, A fund raiser will cost £150k per year, so that additional overhead will load the risk. And then there will be the need to hire a Director of Administration (just look at the organisation chart of the Royal Opera ) and that is another £100k. And if there is the slightest wobble, the current sponsor (Investec), who put in £200k per year will 'exit left'. This is the new risk profile. But none of this, of course, was discussed. And probably not understood - just like Chelsea Care.

A hard hitting report from the Public Realm Scrutiny Committee was buried. Chairman Joanna Gardiner was "unable to attend the Cabinet". Her report was rubbished by Cllr Lightfoot and Cllr Buxton who invented Chelsea Care. Not a word from a single Cabinet member about the opposition from residents and  Labour councillors about the Council using huge amounts of tax payers money to support home grown opera when there are two world class alternatives (the Royal Opera and English National Opera) just down the road.

In a shameful let down by the Officer class, the report's author Tot Brill was singing for her supper. She stated that HPO plays to 90% houses compared with London theatres who play to 60% houses. She forgot to add that many HPO tickets are given away for free and Covent Garden plays to 98% houses. Dotty Totty also 'laid it' on that the Council is making available "affordable opera". She forgot to mention that Covent Garden seats are cheaper than HPO seats!

Cllr Lightfoot summed up the complete breakdown of democracy in the Borough when he concluded the farce by saying that "Comparisons with Chelsea Care are irrelevant. This is about how we choose to allocate cash". No one dared to acknowledge the elephant in the room - what happens when self financing does not happen? The only light relief came from observing Cllr Eliazabeth Campbell who is playing herself into her new Cabinet role. She obviously thinks she is Margret Thatcher reincarnated - copy cat hairstyle, and copy cat mannerisms. She is still working on the voice...a remarkably stupid woman.


  1. You have hit the nail right on head yet again, dear Dame, you are a champion for us all, the poor ignored majority of residents and officers - and the odd Councillor -who care.

    There will be a LOT of people keeping a VERY close eye on this new disaster-in-the-making, and trust us Dame Hornet, you will be first in line for any updates.

    Truly ashamed to be part of this self-serving bunch quite blind to reality.

  2. Well here they go again. How dare they spend taxpayers money in this fashion. whilst frontline services for the vulnerable are slashed.

    They are a disgrace to democracy and have no morals. and should have personal responsibility for their abuse of power.

    If it should hit 'their' pocket they would squeal quite loudly and maybe form their own opera company.

    They clearly have a chorus line! with Campbell as their squeaky Soprano. Disgraceful.

  3. At the Council meeting it was announced that Golborne Ward is among the poorest in London. Where are the well-thought-out plans to deal with that?

    Just shows you what their priorities are.

    Opera over poverty. A total disgrace.

  4. What we need is French style direct action. Lets disrupt HPO, lets target Cockroach when he speaks publicly or when you meet him on the street,oops sorry I meant in the Bently. We could also disrupt a council meeting, organic eggs and flour would make a nice evening delicacy.

  5. Retired Chief Executive23 March 2012 at 21:50

    The Council is attempting to convert a "cottage industry" HPO into a full cost and self standing entity. This is one of the most difficult management challenges to bring off and in my experience it is impossible to achieve with small scale operations where overheads will kill it. New salaries for Fund raisers, admin, Board fees, etc.

    And the decision to negotiate terms and conditions for the support that is currently provided free (admin, back office, IT, accommodation, the canopy) and report back in November to Cabinet is shear bad management. This will demotivate the management team during the busy opera season. Not what is required when attempting to take the organisation to a new level.

  6. The Cabinet meeting was evidently instructed beforehand about what to say and how to vote. Anyone stepping out of line was ruthlessly put down. Not much sign of democracy and the muppets (residents) were not represented at all.

    Cllr Cockell and lap dog Paget-Brown were on vintage form. When Cllr Fielding-Mellen made the sensible suggestion that it would be a good idea to have an interim report to Cabinet in the summer about how negotiations were going about the "freebies" which the Council currently provides (accommodation, IT, back office etc) Paget-Brown slapped him down with a dismissive "can't do that, we will be too busy with the season".

    When Cllr Ahern had the temerity to ask about the £1 million subsidy last year, he was told that it was "an aberration because a sponsor dropped out".

    For some strange reason the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee (Cllr Gardner) was "unavoidably absent". She had prepared a penetrating report with some tough questions.

    What is the point of Scrutiny in K&C? Our boy Pooter likes to boast that he "does scrutiny".

  7. Amused Resident23 March 2012 at 22:05

    It was a Command Performance at Cabinet.

    Cllr Paget-Brown kicked off with the words "we are here to discuss the future of the Great Glory Of London, Holland Park Opera".

    Nods of approval all round. And purrs from the Poodles. A strange sound, Poodles purring.

  8. Kensington Resident23 March 2012 at 22:11

    Cllr Cockell was not to be outdone by his sidekick, Cllr Brown. "We are proud and happy to use public money to provide something that is not easily available" he chirped.

    Well there are one or two things that are not easily available that I would like to see given - like help for the poor and destitute.

  9. Cllr Cockell is misleading residents and councillors (again) with "mis speak"

    He keeps saying that opera is not "easily available" to residents. Well any of us can take the bus or tube to Covent Garden and buy a ticket for the big operas for £6. The cheapest tickets for HPO are £12.

    Why does the Leader tell so many porkies?

  10. The fact is there is a small group of friends and councillors who like the idea of their own opera show in Holland Park (another train set to play with) and it gives upwardly mobile Cllr Cockell a charge to be able to refer to "his" Glyndebourne in the Park.

    The piggy bank of Hornton Street is always available for these little indulgences (just like Exhibition Rd) and for years council tax has quietly been salted away. Support for the opera is currently running at £1.5 million a year

  11. Cost Investigator24 March 2012 at 07:59

    Transparency has never been a strong feature of the Cockell administration. When residents queried his frequent trips to America for jollies he rushed to the web site and reported that he had only made one trip to New York to visit with his friend Mayor Bloomberg. Well Freedom of Information showed that the ratepayers paid for four trips (two to New York, one to Boston and one to San Francisco).

    For years the Council has under reported the true cost of subsidy to HPO. Freedom of Information shows that the true cost is more than twice what is reported.

    The published "subsidy" last year was £450k. FOI data shows that support (including IT and admin support and capital recharging) was £982k. Rent for land and offices "comes free"

    The House that Cockell built.....

  12. Holland Park Opera is a true fairytale.

    The inspiration and driving force is one Michael Volpe. Michael ran a travel agency until he got bored and/or found the going tough. So he joined the Council as events manager, He saw the chance to do some amateur opera in the Park funded by the "events budget" at Hornton Street and the rest is history.

    When he needed help he recruited his friend Clutton, (out of work West End theater manager) to help. He joined the council parole too.

    Pooter loved the idea of his own opera (after all he an opera lover) and gave the travel agent an open checkbook. "Mike, just tell me how much you need. And this is between us, OK?"

    Of course

  13. A little local difficulty for the bird brain Paget-Brown scheme of a self standing company is that HPO has eight permanent and twenty part time staff for the summer season. All of them are council employees with inflation proofed pensions (unheard of in the theater world) and pay and conditions which are about 20% higher than West End rates.

    There is a little world war brewing here

  14. Owl is quite right to highlight the quaint arrangements in this very Pooter style cottage industry.

    Hard pressed Officers have signed the cheques and done the book keeping and answered the FOI requests. But in future it will be "full on". An HPO Board of Directors and its own administration staff.

    Paget-Brown has lined up five local "worthies" from the Friends to be Directors of the Board. No doubt they will have a Director's Box at the opera. But what about their Directors' fees? £25k each? That's another £125k to find every year....

  15. Retired Chief Executive24 March 2012 at 08:22

    The Friends of Holland Park Opera are amateur fundraisers. And they do an admirable job finding £250k to support the opera every year. But their skill set is not what is necessary for a Board of Directors. The requirements are quite different.

    If the Council is recruiting Friends to be Directors of the new HPO company it is a great mistake. Expediency is not the answer to sustainable success.

  16. I see another Chelsea Care on the horizon

  17. At least three of the Friends recruited to be Board members of the Paget-Brown opera are paid up members of the Conservative Party.

    Keep it in the family, I say

  18. Not much is known of the quiet and penniless bachelor, Cllr Paget-Brown.

    But his £50k plus SRA (courtesy of Pooter) has given this once backward stamp collector new social aspirations.

    He has burst forth onto the opera scene


  19. West London Resident24 March 2012 at 08:38

    Paget-Brown also flirted with the charms of Moylan when he was a player in Hornton Street. Moylan wheeled him out to give the Blind Association a tough time when they objected to the inherent dangers of the Exhibition Rd design.

    And of late, Prof Gordon Taylor (of Imperial College) has had to take Paget-Brown to task for "mis speak" in his letters to the press trying to justify Exhibition Rd

    We are waiting for the first fatality

  20. Gordon Taylor is a nutter

  21. November Scenario24 March 2012 at 13:04

    A Council Working Party will report back to Cabinet in November about the terms and conditions that have been negotiated with NEWCO.

    Here is a guess at the outcome:

    £1 million tent given for free. (After all it is paid for already)

    £300k of IT and office support continued gratis (After all, it was always available free

    Land and buildings made available at no cost (Why not?)

    Tent erected and dismantled, and stored, every year for free. Cost is £100k per year but Planning Guidelines about not cluttering the Park need to be observed

    Local Govt terms and conditions for existing staff (inflation proof pensions etc) preserved for existing staff

    £500k per annum grant confirmed to NEWCO which now carries additional overhead of £370k per year (£150k for fund raiser, £100k for Director of Administration, £125k for Board fees)

    NEWCO too poor to manage sinking fund for replacement tent which in tatters by 2016 season

    Volpe quits because of encroachment on "artistic freedom"

    Funding gap rockets to £1 million per year.

    Council meets to decide whether to close HPO or continue funding

    Chelsea Care (2016)

  22. This whole saga needs rigorous attention by the District Auditor to make sure that there is transparency about the actual cost of support for Holland Park Opera.

    If it is true that the Council has been willfully concealing the scale of subsidy then this is a very serious matter

  23. 8:40
    Dictatorships have a method for dealing with dissidents: they are locked up saying they suffer from psychiatric issues. Anyone who has met Doctor Gordon Taylor knows him to be not just highly intelligent, but forceful in searching out the truth. And searching for the truth in this Borough requires huge degrees of commitment. Lying and dissembling are the stock in trade of our council. So when you use puerile language in a vain attempt to undermine Gordon Taylor you just make yourself seem idiotic and laughable. We need the Taylors' of this world to educate idiots.
    Both Cllr Paget-Brown and Moylan have not a clue about traffic engineering. They should be grateful for Doctor Taylor's assistance in pointing out the crazy thinking behind Exhibition Rd.
    Don't make a fool of yourself 8:40!


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