Senior Jersey government official Deputy Roy Le Herissier has called for an investigation into the closure of the Jersey Opera House and questioned whether a bank loan taken when the theatre reopened in 1999 has doomed the enterprise to failure.
In his proposition for an inquiry by the States of Jersey into the theatre’s financial status, Le Herissier, president of the island’s Privileges and Procedures Committee, stated that the venue’s current situation appeared to the public as “a mixture of a personality conflict and one where there is a history of misunderstanding and possibly even more serious allegations.”
Speaking to The Stage, he explained that there are worries over the initial £5.5 million loan from Barclays Bank which is now likely to cost £9 million to pay back over 15 years.
He said: “There are questions over the terms on which the loan deal was granted – whether we launched the project with a total financial liability around its neck with the circumstances of the loan deal, whether it was a mistake to launch the scheme in the first place.”
The theatre closed this February, with a deficit of £271,000, after crisis talks with the States of Jersey’s Education, Sport and Culture Committee failed to solve the venue’s funding problems. It has since reopened on a temporary basis until the end of May but meetings between the venue’s board and the committee have not found a permanent solution. It is estimated that an inquiry would cost somewhere in the region of £30,000 and would be expected to report within three months of commencing its work.
Christopher Lakeman, chairman of Jersey Opera House, said that while he was not in favour of an inquiry, he could envisage the theatre being forced into a position where it was the last option.
He said: “We think that it could potentially be a waste of money. We would favour a process of mediation with the culture committee. However, the problem is that there seems to be no prospect of them agreeing to mediation. Their position has become entrenched, as has ours. We’re not going to get anywhere without a mediator.”
Le Herissier agreed that the investigation should only be taken as a last resort and was hopeful that the threat of government action might force both parties to find a solution through other means.
He added: “The whole opera house deal is a very expensive one. We’ve paid a lot of money and while this goes on, the loan keeps ticking away. I regard an inquiry as a last resort but if they [The States] feel that there are buried issues, they might warm to the idea. The longer this is drawn out the more likely it becomes.”