Houston plans on outsourcing to ease Harrogate’s problem

Despite the latest accounts showing record losses, Harrogate International Centre’s (HIC) Director Angus Houston tells CN he has a plan to focus on more corporate meetings business and outsource some of its services in order to balance the books and continue to deliver £100m to the wider economy each year.

The latest financial forecasts for the HIC predicted a loss of over £1.5m in the next 12 months, on top of £941,000 for the current financial year.

The HIC is owned by the District Council and has just emerged from a heavy round of job losses which has seen a 100-strong workforce halved in two years.

HIC Director Angus Houston tells CN that “a big transition has been undertaken”. The HIC, he pointed out, did not have a big metropolitan council to fund it, but a district council which itself was facing an 11 per cent fall in government funding over the next 12 months. The Government’s grant to Harrogate District Council fell by 16 per cent in this financial year leading to an overall £2.7m shortfall.

“The old exhibition market had changed,” Houston says, but hails the new potential for events at the modern £12m hall extension at HIC. Houston says he plans to target the more lucrative corporate meetings sector as a key points of his strategy for pulling through the economic downturn.

“Harrogate is also an association destination,” Houston notes, pointing out that “to get from A to B in this transition we are making, we still have to lose a lot of the high cost base from budget”.  He says tenders are already out for outsourcing certain services and acknowledges outsourcing is the way forward. Staff, he says, have been informed openly about all plans and possibilities going forward.

The HIC has seen a drop in the number of events from 77 in 2010/11 to 64 in the current financial year, with the HIC expecting around 54 to be staged during 2012/13.

The continued support for the Royal Hall and investment there has placed a cumulative strain on the budget and Houston does not rule out “ring-fencing” different parts of the HIC business in future.

On the plus side of new business won, Houston says the British Oncology Pharmacy Association will be bringing 1,000 delegates to its conference in October 2012. Houston claims to have booked in his sixth event contract in recent months and adds: “there is life in the market yet”.

He stresses he and his team have the full backing of the Council which is to stage a wide-ranging marketing campaign over the next year in a bid to attract more events to the HIC.

Do you have news for CN? Email: pcolston@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

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Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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