Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday 1 March 2008

Financial reality catches up with Inverness Aquadome

A 'company' (the implication being it is somehow a commercial venture, whereas it is nothing of the kind, as 100 per cent of the shares are owned by by Highland Council) operating Inverness Aquadome, a sports and leisure facility in the town/city, is being wound-up and the facility will in future be operated by the local authority direct.

Inverness Aquadome is a maginificent facility, grandiose even, for a relatively small place such as Inverness, but this change in the way it is operated (there is NO change in its ownership - this is an accounting fiction in my opinion) will of itself have absolutely no effect on the basic problem. The facility does not generate enough revenue from the 'punters' who use it to allow for the regular maintenance of a building of this size and complexity. As with a lot of publically-financed, publically-subsidised large projects, little thought goes into their long-term financial viability. The classic case was the huge stock of council dwellings in places such as Glasgow, and to a smaller extent even in cities like Inverness, which were probably pretty nice when they were built (and certainly a lot better than the housing most of the tenants lived in before), but the rents they were charged to occupy them simply did not cover the regular maintenance that the fabric of any building requires and over several decades much of this housing stock slid into desrepair.

The problem with such socialist-inspired projects is that the desire is to make a facility available to everyone, but to charge very little for using it. However, salaries have to be paid, the fabric of buildings deteriorates over time and requires money to be spent to maintain them - then when elections come along there is the desire, at least for that part of the election cycle until the election is safely over, to keep tax increases (national or local) as low as possible.

Inverness has seen the same problem over the decades with that other major local cultural venue, Eden Court.

At least this change of legal status at Inverness Aquadome will be a little more honest than the fiction that has been played out since it was built. It won't solve the basic problem of a lack of revenue or the fact that projects dependent on public finance are always at the mercy of many compteting pressures; voters don't like taxes, far less rising taxes, except when other people are involved of course! No doubt this project will be added to the long list which scrapes by from hand-to-mouth and occasionally manages to get a grant from central government (i.e. the tax-payer) or the National Lottery (i.e. the tax-payer, if only by proxy) so it doesn't actually fall down.

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