NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
The Coffee shop within Clydebank Town Hall has been a flop. Nobody wants to buy the Council’s coffee – and even fewer people seem to be interested in their museum and garden gallery.
Now, this news will not surprise many people, at least not many who are familiar with Clydebank and where the Town Hall is situated.
It’s in an area almost as attractive as the Artizan Centre in Dumbarton or the Mitchell Way shopping street in Alexandria, which means it’s not the least bit attractive. Don’t let the photograph above fool you.
However, the SNP group leader Cllr Jonathan McColl and his SNP cronies – not to mention the so-called Independent and Alba Party hangers on – consider it a good idea to keep it going.
To me, it was throwing good money after bad to have spent £3.6 million on what was really only good for an old dance hall which never in a million years would be considered as a venue for Strictly Come Dancing.
However, a £3.6m restoration and renovation project was undertaken jointly by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and West Dunbartonshire Council.
This was based on a proposal to change the Town Hall into a “commercially focused venue for the Council and local area, creating the Clydebank Museum and Gallery, the Garden Gallery and garden and the coffee shop as well as providing bespoke space for a range of corporate, civic and cultural events”.
This was not surprising given that they have people like Cllr McColl and Bailie Denis Agnew, the man who sold his right to independent thinking to the SNP for a few quid on his allowances and a gold chain connected to an ancient office which to all intents and purposes no longer exists.
After ten years of “maybes aye, maybes naw” which should really be on the Council coat of arms, the local gauleiters have decided they had better do something about it.
After all, there is an election in the local government pipeline and the bookies are beginning to look to other parties to provide the winners.
The Town Hall is currently closed following the national lockdown. Prior to this, it was open from 8.45am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday, and 10am to 4pm on Saturday. The museum and gallery were open 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday and the coffee shop was open 11am to 1pm, Monday to Friday.
Despite these additions, the venue has subsequently struggled to attract visitors in significant numbers and to generate income from those who do attend.
This is council shorthand for “nobody wants to buy anything – even a coffee here”.
As a result, in the seven years leading up to the pandemic, council officers focussed on event bookings in order to attract revenue and achieve income targets.
A report yesterday from Malcolm Bennie, Chief Officer – Citizen, Culture & Facilities Cultural Committee, pictured left, followed a request from councillors to examine the possibility of weekend opening at the Clydebank Town Hall, and include any potential revenue implications.
My own prediction would be that this will bring no increase in visitor numbers and that the Town Hall will continue to lose lots of money. Council taxpayers’ money.
This would detail the visitor levels and coffee shop performance on Saturdays in the intervening period, and on this basis consider the case for Sunday opening.
Common sense, of which there seems to be little in the Council, should tell them they are on to a loser.
What went wrong? The Council’s highly paid officials think the hall is too small – “the small size of the museum and gallery inhibited the ability to attract prestigious exhibitions on a regular basis.
“This meant the exhibitions that were displayed tended to be more modest and less able to attract visitors from across West Dunbartonshire and beyond.
“Footfall was on average less than 10 people per day and the numbers differed very little between weekdays and weekends.
“This low footfall undermined the business case for the coffee shop which was predicated on a regular flow of visitors to the museum and gallery.
“With only a handful of daily customers and takings of as little as £11 per day this provided an unsustainable performance level. Staffing costs and food waste mean this represents an inefficient use of resources.
“In addition the original Coffee Shop location between the existing Museum and Lesser Hall suffered from a lack of natural light and no view making it an ill-defined venue. This contributed to the failure to attract regular non-museum customers.”
In February 2021 this year councillors decided to remove the coffee shop from its existing location to allow for the creation of an expanded and upgraded gallery space.
“This larger and more modern facility could attract more prestigious exhibitions, and in turn, higher levels of footfall to the Town Hall.
“In addition, the coffee shop would have become a self-service facility in the more attractive garden gallery with views and easy access to the re-landscaped Town Hall garden.”
Two months ago – better late than never – in October 2021 the Cultural Committee, headed up by bumptious Bailie Agnew, pictured right, changed the plans for the Town Hall.
Maybes aye, maybes naw, came into play yet again.
Decisions included not accepting the concept design for the new gallery area as previously agreed, and instead proceeding with an amended design of the booth area to create a partitioned space.
This partitioned space is not supported by climate control technology – as is the case in the original gallery spaces – making it unsuitable for the display of high-quality artwork.
This is Clydebank Town Hall we are talking about, not the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
It has the hubristic name of Bailie Agnew written all over it.
The Cultural Committee and the Town Hall Working Group have also indicated that they wish to maintain largely static art exhibitions in the current Gallery.
These are to include a display of the Council’s Scottish Colourist collection, the soon-to-be-purchased 20th Century Women’s Artists, and a new Children’s Museum.
Maybes naw comes into play at last.
Malcolm Bennie’s report states: “While these are undoubtedly quality displays, it is the view of officers that there is a risk that visitor numbers will fall in the medium and long-term because once an individual has seen these static exhibitions once or twice they are unlikely to return on a regular basis.
“Once climate control measures have been installed in the Garden Gallery, it may be possible in future to attract touring exhibitions to this space. “
But – and it’s a big but – this will not be an option in 2022/23 as there are a number of wedding bookings in the Garden Gallery throughout the year which would need to be fulfilled.
There could be TEN additional visitors per week by opening on a Sunday.
There’s then much in the report about seven-day opening, which gives credence to Parkinson’s Law, which is that work expands to meet the time allocated to it.
Naturally, more staff would be required, but the Council’s not a jobs creation scheme or at least it’s not supposed to be.
COUNCILLOR JONATHAN McCOLL
Mr Bennie goes on: “If elected members wished to see a full 7-day operation then officers would need to recruit an additional number of employees to cover the extra hours, and mitigate the risk of any complications with the Working Time Regulations 1998.
“In effect this would be the creation of a second operational team to work Fridays to Sundays and support the existing team.
“It is estimated that this would cost up to approximately £115,000 per year. There would also likely be some increase in property costs, such as utility bills. It is difficult to accurately estimate this, however, as an indicative figure the building currently costs around £200 daily for heating, lighting and electricity.
“As a result there would be an estimated £10,000 additional annual cost for utilities following this decision, with limited income to offset.
“This option would require approximately £125,000 of additional costs to be added to the revenue budget being prepared for 2022/23.”
You will crease yourself laughing at this: “The Town Hall Working Group has previously discussed the potential to close the building to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays in order to facilitate opening on Sundays.
“In considering this approach it needs to be remembered that the Town Hall provides office accommodation Monday to Friday for Elected Members and Elected Member Support Services.
“As a result even a closure to the public early in the week would still create a scenario where the building was operational 7-day-a-week. The full team would not be required at work when the building was closed to the public, but there would still need to be a Facilities Assistant as well as a Team Leader onsite.
“It is estimated that this expanded team would cost approximately £30,000 per year. In addition, closing on a Monday and Tuesday and opening on a Sunday would mean there was one less day per week than present to undertake events at the Town Hall.
“ In addition, there would be one day less to meet event organisers on site for tours to secure future bookings. As a result, there is likely to be an impact on future income targets.
“There would also be the previously mentioned increased property costs. In total, this option would create additional revenue costs of approximately £50,000 per year.”
There is much more in this report which I have not included in this Notebook, having come to the conclusion that it should be laughed out the door and the SNP administration, with their arm being twisted by Bailie Agnew, who sees himself as Mr Clydebank, voted out of office at the next election.
Final word: “The proposals within this report are linked to the following strategic priorities: Efficient and effective frontline services that improve the everyday lives of residents.”
And the band played Believe it if You Like.