Stirling Council has thrown the latest punch in a battle for control of the Wallace Monument, accusing the charity which runs the attraction of a “dismissive approach” to talks.
Earlier this week, as revealed by the Stirling Observer, Stirling District Tourism (SDT) launched a community ownership campaign for the monument in a bid to scupper the council’s plans to pull it back in-house.
Although the award-winning tourist attraction is owned by the council, SDT - the charity set up to operate it - has run it since 1995.
Stirling Council decided in March to take back control of the award-winning attraction and feels it should be part of a wider tourism vision.
The council - which has denied it sees the monument as a ‘cash cow’ - plans to take over operation at the end of its current lease in November this year, and as the Observer went to press a special meeting was seeking approval from councillors to essentially continue with or without SDT’s cooperation.
Whilst the council owns the monument, however, it does not have control over its other operational assets such as the visitor centre, cafe and car park, which are owned or controlled by SDT.
Following SDT’s announcement, a Stirling Council spokesperson said: “We fully agree with SDT that the monument should work better for the people of Stirling and the wider area and that is why we made this carefully considered recommendation which in March was voted for by councillors across political groups.
“The monument is already in public ownership so it’s surprising SDT has launched a campaign via the media to bring it into community ownership.
“SDT did not raise this proposal during two years of negotiations to reach a new agreement over the future management of the monument, however this has been the dismissive approach to engagement throughout the negotiations - distinctively lacking regard for the community thus far and the asset, which is already publicly owned.
“While we are thankful to the staff and board of SDT for their work over the past 25 years, we are excited to be putting this world-famous attraction at the centre of a bold and imaginative tourism and culture strategy for the wider area, which will see it, and other publicly owned assets, brought together to drive tourism growth across the region.”
SDT have suggested the council lacks the skills and expertise needed to run the monument, that an external review on which the council had based its proposals was flawed, and voiced concerns that essential conservation wouldn’t take place.
The council, however, has accused SDT of making a number of “unfounded and misleading claims” and said the authority was “a large organisation with significant experience in running a wide-range of different facilities, services and culture venues”, has in-house expertise in all the key areas required, and that staff already working for SDT would transfer to the council.
It added that a statutory review of contracts concluded the current lease arrangements, signed in 1995, no longer represented best value for the council as partner, or the area’s tax payers.
A spokesman added: “At every point, the council has stepped up to ensure the future of the monument, including an exterior restoration project last year that totalled more than £600,000. The council will continue to fulfil its responsibilities in this regard. Future operating arrangements will ensure the incomes generated can be directly invested back into the monument’s protection and development.”
Community Ownership is carried out via a Community Asset Transfer request to the asset owners in the first instance - in this case, Stirling Council. If refused, it can be appealed at national level with the advice from Community Ownership Support Scotland.
An SDT spokesperson said: “This has been done successfully in many areas where communities consider assets to be at risk or better managed by communities of interest. This would require a change in our Articles to widen membership to community supporters of the monument.”
Earlier this week, SDT chair Zillah Jamieson said: “ It is our strongly held view that diverting funds from the monument to other purposes is an approach which will potentially starve the attraction from the investment which is required to maintain its status, its appeal, and its ability to attract visitors.
“As trustees, we have an obligation to act in the best interests of the monument and we have grave concerns that the council have no clear path to achieve this.”
Council officers have estimated that underwriting the cost of a new internal exhibition could cost the council around £500,000 alone and estimate costs to the council of around £200,000 from November 27 2020 through to April 2021. An officer working group has also suggested a temporary closure could be considered if there was “an exceptionally quiet winter” until the tourism market resumes and Covid-19 impact has eased.
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