The following Notice of Motion was debated at the meeting of Harrogate Borough Council (17 April 2013) – the motion was approved unanimously.
Recognising the critical importance of the Harrogate International Centre (HIC) to the economy of the Harrogate district, this Council congratulates the HIC team for achieving an additional income of £405,000 in the financial year 2012/2013.
In the interests of the council taxpayers and residents of the district, the Council seeks to ensure that the HIC business will be turned back into profitability once the economy picks up.
Transcript of Don Mackenzie’s opening statement:
I am very happy to second this Notice of Motion in order to provide much needed encouragement to our newly-appointed Director of HIC, Simon Kent. As a former HIC board member, I know very well indeed what a tough market place it is at the moment for conference and exhibition venues like our own.
I have stated in the past my firm conviction that HIC can sell itself out of the loss-making situation in which it finds itself. By means of professional marketing and seeking out new opportunities for business, at the same time as cutting expenditure and becoming more efficient, I am convinced that we can soon get back to profits.
No, it will not be easy. Running a business which competes in the private sector, whilst it is owned and managed in the public sector brings unique challenges. This business needs the full support of everyone, including the HIC employed staff, the wider council staff, and especially the support of the elected members.
Whilst this council gives the HIC director greater freedom to run the business day by day without recourse to the decision of the Board or of this Council, the big decisions concerning investment, strategy and policy come from us – 54 elected members who all have their own views, and many of whom think they know better. That’s a tough world for Simon Kent to inhabit, as it has been for his predecessors.
I remind members that this business is a tough one, especially right now. Both the private and public sectors are having to cut back in expenditure, and often it is the conference and exhibition budget that gets trimmed back hardest.
Local politics, especially petty, tawdry politics of the worst kind, should not come into it. We should all, to a man and woman, be behind Simon and his professional team at HIC. We should be supportive, we should encourage; above all, we should be positive about HIC in our public statements.
That is why I am particularly disappointed in the public comments made by some members opposite, who claim that everything was better when they were in charge. Have they no understanding of the effect such comments have on our HIC staff, on the HIC non-executive directors, or especially on our potential customers, who will only be put off by that?
We have a policy here that there should be balanced political representation on the HIC Board. How inappropriate, therefore, that our taxpayers should read this in a recent leaflet from the party opposite:
“Local people are furious that the Conservatives are covering up losses run up by HIC. Bill Hoult says: “When the Lib Dems ran the Council, the HIC was making a million pounds profit. Now the centre is losing over £1m a year, due to mismanagement by the conservative party, and it’s local taxpayers who are footing the bill”.
This message is going out to every household in the district!
Apart from ignoring the fact that HIC was profitable in easier times under both administrations, do they not understand that times are much tougher now than ever they were in this business? What is more, this quote is from one of the two Lib Dem board members, who are supposed to be helping manage the business. How hypocritical can you get! And as for the allegation that losses are being “covered up” – not only is he on the board to have total insight into the business, but a totally false statement like that is probably actionable in law. If he were a board member of a private business or PLC, a statement like that would have him removed immediately.
As I have said, local politics do not belong in the world in which HIC is fighting to survive, and to try to make political capital out of the current situation lets down our employees, our customers, and above all our taxpayers.
And so, I congratulate the HIC team led by its new director, I wish them well, and I give my wholehearted support to them in getting this business back to profit.
Head of Operations at the HIC, Simon Kent said:
The Council has unanimously reaffirmed their support for HIC and it’s role in supporting the local economy and I am pleased that they have recognised the achievement of the HIC Sales Team in exceeding their 2012/13 sales targets in a very difficult commercial environment.