THE future of Scarborough’s century-old Spa Orchestra is under the spotlight after it emerged that it is costing the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds.
The 2011 run of the Scarborough institution – which is the only remaining seaside summer orchestra in the UK – brought in £110,000 in revenue, but cost nearly £150,000 in orchestra fees and other expenses.
The ensemble is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary this summer and a programme of shows has already been announced, but the figures cast doubt over the long-term future of the orchestra with a private operator likely to take over at the Spa.
Last year only 14 morning season tickets, costing £142, were sold, while less than 100 full season tickets, which were priced at £265, were purchased.
The Spa is currently being market tested to see if an outside company could step in to run the venue, but Brian Bennett, the council’s head of tourism and culture, said all potential operators had been made aware of the importance of the orchestra.
He added: “Detailed proposals from bidders, including their ideas for the Spa Orchestra, will be shortly submitted to the council for consideration.”
Cllr David Jeffels, Scarborough Council’s portfolio holder for tourism, insisted the orchestra was good value for money, and said the £37,804 deficit should be seen as an “investment” in the town’s tourism industry.
He added: “There is considerable secondary spending by patrons of the orchestra in the Spa restaurant and its other facilities, and in the town in general.
“Many people traditionally book their holidays to coincide with the concerts and, like such things as the parks and gardens, the orchestra is a valuable part of our holiday product as a tourist town.
“The orchestra is good value for money, both in terms of spending by patrons and the publicity it generates as the last surviving seaside orchestra in the country.
“Certainly this year I am sure it is going to achieve considerable recognition nationally because this is its centenary.
“The orchestra is a valuable part of Scarborough’s cultural life and I hope it will remain so for a long time.”
Figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that ticket sales for morning concerts brought in £34,700, the evening shows made £60,500 while Peasholm concerts generated £8,800 in 2011.
A further £1,800 was made through programme sales, £1,450 came into the coffers in the form of sponsorship and donations and a £1,700 fee was charged for performing in Middlesbrough.
But orchestra costs alone came to £112,700, almost £7,000 was paid to guest artistes, more than £4,500 went on advertising and printing while more than £10,500 went on staffing, not including salaried staff and managers.
Equipment for the Peasholm concerts, including fireworks, cost £7,250, £5,200 was paid to the Performing Rights Society, while £400 went on gala concert preparation and £160 was spent on equipment.
Shirley Barry, 75, of Castle Road, has been a regular at the Spa Orchestra’s performances for 20 years.
She said: “I go every morning and evening when it’s on. I’ve made lots of friends there and I look forward to it every summer. A lot of them come from other areas and they would stop coming if there were no more shows.
“It’s a fantastic orchestra. They’re wonderful musicians and are very friendly. If it went it would leave such a hole in my life, I know so many people who would be devastated.”