Letter - The Hepworth has been ‘monumental’ for Wakefield district

In response to Mr Wildie’s letter in last week’s Express – I would like to reiterate that The Hepworth Wakefield has been monumental in putting our district on the cultural map as explained with passion in the letter from Simon Wallis, Director, The Hepworth Wakefield.

The Hepworth has achieved many great things in the short time it has been operating; including being shortlisted twice for the Arts Fund Museum of the Year award, and has achieved over a million visits which has given a huge boost to our tourism economy.

This influx of visitors to the district is estimated to bring in around £22.8m, based on the tourism industry standard of using average spend per day visitor to the district. I think it is reasonable to expect the Hepworth to bring in a further £15m of tourism and economic benefits over the next four years.

It is important to recognise that the Hepworth is also partly funded by the Arts Council England who will be contributing a further £2.7m over the next three years from 2015. The Council’s funding support has enabled the Hepworth to maintain its Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation status which would certainly had been lost to the district if the council had withdrawn or significantly reduced its funding.

With an annual operating budget of around £3m, the Hepworth is working hard to make up any annual shortfall through generating its own income to support itself. Setting up as an independent trust to manage the facility and the Fine Art collections has given the Hepworth the much needed flexibility to strengthen its long term income generation which simply would not have been available, if it was being operated by the council.

Mr Brown mentioned in his letter a figure of £6.2m which I think is referring to the £6.58m provided by the council during the first four-year agreement with the Hepworth. Last week Cabinet agreed to provide a fee of £1.24m which will total £4.96m over the next four years of the Service Concession Agreement. This means an overall reduction of £1.62m compared to the previous four-year funding cycle.

Wakefield district can rightly be proud of the quality of its cultural and tourist attractions and as a council we are continuing to find ways of investing in much-needed cultural facilities such as the recently opened Castleford Forum Library and Museum.

The Council is facing many difficult challenges to balance its finances whilst ensuring that we deliver much needed services to residents across the district.

To do this also means continuing to support attractions like the Hepworth because of the economic and tourism benefits it brings to the district.

I am committed to looking at any options which would reduce the Hepworth’s long term reliance on our financial support.

This is still on-going and I will be bringing back to Cabinet a report in due course on the options available for securing the long-term success of the Hepworth Wakefield.

Coun Les Shaw

Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport