FURTHER QUESTIONS have been raised about the real costs of running the Priory Visitor Centre.
In an appendix document released as part of Coventry City Council’s formal Expression of Interest process to find a new body to manage the ‘internationally important’ tourist site, figures cite £16,271.19 as the total bill for maintenance and utilites – a far cry from the £100,000 the council claimed it cost to keep the centre running each year.
The Priory Visitor Centre closed its doors earlier this year after councillors voted to cut funding to the home of the city’s 1,000-year-old first cathedral and priory as part of cost-cutting measures to save £100,000 a year.
In response to questions asked as part of our Save the Priory campaign last week, a council spokesperson argued the council had “previously allocated and provided a grant of £85,702 for the staffing and operational management of the centre” – thus totalling the £100,000 figure when added to the £16,000 maintenance and utility costs.
However, the specifics of this grant have been called into question.
When pressed for further details about staffing, a council spokesperson said the Priory Visitor Centre had two full time employees and three part-time employees – equating to 3.2 full-time members of staff.
But sources tell the Observer staffing costs were negligible, with only one member of staff actually being a paid employee of the Priory Visitor Centre.
They claim the other staff were employees of Culture Coventry, splitting their hours between the Priory Visitor Centre and trust’s other attractions – Coventry Transport Museum, Lunt Fort, and The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.
And when the centre shut its doors, the source told the Observer all but one member of staff simply transferred to one of the another venues.
Clarifying what ‘operational management’ costs meant, the council spokesperson claimed these were budgets used to ‘safely open, manage and promote the Priory Visitor Centre and Undercrofts.’
But, as we revealed earlier this year, the site dubbed the ‘birthplace of modern Coventry’ did not feature on street signposts in the heart of the city or have any presence of social media – casting doubt on the council’s assertion some of the £85,000 grant was being spent on promoting the site.
The council went on to argue part of the grant was allocated for repair and maintenance of the site.
However, £500,000-a-year from the Millenium Fund had already been earmarked for the maintenance of the Priory Visitor Centre – as Coventry city councillor and long-standing Blue Badge tourist guide, Coun Roger Bailey pointed out early on in our #SaveThePriory campaign.
Furthermore, when the Observer asked Coventry City Council for evidence of this grant, the council spokesperson said it had ‘formed part of the overall annual grant payments’ made to Culture Coventry, and would therefore not appear as a separate budget line in council documents.
The Coventry Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign has called on the council to ensure the venue founded by Lady Godiva and Earl Leofric is urgently re-opened.
Prominent figures including the Bishop of Coventry; TV Time Team presenter and ‘Blackadder’ star Sir Tony Robinson; eminent medieval historian Dr Jonathan Foyle; and Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham have all echoed our calls and backed our campaign.
Commenting on the revelations, Coun Roger Bailey said the latest revelations prompted ‘yet further questions’ over the closure of what he called ‘the birthplace of our city.’
He added: “There are still questions to be answers and it is clear that we do not fully understand how the figures add up.
“People involved need to sit down and have a frank, honest conversation about the closure of the centre and how it can be re-opened as a matter of urgency – for the sake of the priceless artefacts housed inside.
“The uncertainty and questions surrounding the Priory Visitor Centre has no doubt made potential takeover groups wary.”
How YOU can support our campaign:
- Our letters page.. Share your thoughts and experiences, in words or pictures, and say what Coventry’s proud medieval history means to you.
- On Twitter @covobserver. Using the hashtag #savethepriory to pledge your support.
- On Facebook.co.uk/covobserver. Keep up to date, and share your thoughts.
- Head to our dedicated #savethepriory web page, and get the latest on the battle to save the Priory Visitor Centre.