A major west Suffolk arts venue is taking steps towards standing on its own two feet after a ‘dramatic improvement’ in its financial performance.

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St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s subsidisation of the Apex in Bury St Edmunds has been repeatedly questioned by critics who claim the venue should be funded by those that use it rather than by taxpayers.

But last night council leaders, who have previously stressed the importance of investing in the region’s culture, said 2013/2014 had been the venue’s most successful year with £43,187 being shaved off the annual budget due to increasing revenues.

This is despite the subsidy being reduced from £775,600 in 2012/2013 to £742,250 making the savings equivalent to a £70,000 reduction in running costs.

Annual figures, which will be considered by the performance and audit scrutiny committee next Thursday (July 31), show that the venue hosted

270 events compared to 198 the year before, while seat sales have gone up by 2,700 on the previous year to 47,862.

Sarah Stamp, St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s cabinet member for Leisure, Culture and Heritage, said: “This has been a fantastic year for The Apex which is a major part of our cultural offer. The huge increase in the number of events that we have been able to host, and the rise in ticket sales, is a real success story.

“To do all that while coming under budget is a major coup and a credit to the team now running the building. We are acting more commercially, taking calculated risks, negotiating hard for the share of profits we receive for the events that we put on – and it is paying off.”

The subsidy for 2014/2015 has been reduced to £672,000 and Mrs Stamp admitted there is “a lot more work to do to build on this success and further reduce the public subsidy.”

She added: “But we are working closely with our partners, and there are some promising developments in the pipeline. In addition to all of this we have had some incredible feedback from performers and visitors to The Apex over the past month which demonstrates the real value of the venue.”

One of the partners the council will be working with is Sodexo, which operates the catering contract at The Apex. The catering firm is ending its contract at Ickworth House in November and it’s believed this could see a number of events relocate to The Apex.

A council spokesman said confidence in the catering offer is also helping The Apex develop stronger links with business groups including The Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, the Best of Bury and Our Bury St Edmunds. Repeat business for the conference and banqueting operation is up to 70% (against a national industry average of just 50%).

David Nettleton, who has previously criticised the subsidisation of the Apex’s – even suggesting it should be a casino rather than a cultural venue – said it was good news the cost had dropped.

But added: “I support the user pays principle so am more interested in the current subsidy which I believe is in the region of £670,000 this year. I hope the report going to performance and audit scrutiny committee next week highlights in bold this figure. The borough council should concentrate on its core business like emptying litter bins before they overflow into the street rather than frivolity.”

He added: “Why isn’t elimination of the subsidy an option in the current public consultation document? I pay for my entertainment – football and cricket matches – so why should I subsidise anyone wanting to attend an Elkie Brooks concert and join in with ‘Pearl’s a Singer’ at the end?”

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