‘Eden Court must start paying its share’ – Highland councilors give new chief executive six months to deliver new funding deal

Court of Eden.

Highland Council and Eden Court are to draft a formal funding agreement within the next six months, according to auditors.

A report to the audit and control committee today recommends the board tighten its contracts with Eden Court, High Life Highland and HiTrans.

In particular, Eden Court does not have a business plan or service agreement in place with the council.

Advisers agreed to cut Eden Court funding in 2019, but this was not reflected in a written contract. Instead, the current £300,000 funding deal is based solely on “an exchange of emails”.

And although High Life Highland reported regularly to the Board’s Education Committee, Eden Court did not provide any performance updates during the review period.

The auditors identified three “medium” risks in the board’s relationships with Independent External Organizations (ALEOs).

Councilors today agreed to the recommendations, which include a central ALEO registry, including funding.

Rebecca Holt takes the reins as Eden Court’s new chief executive next month. Councilors today asked Ms Holt to submit a business plan within six months. The council and Eden Court will also establish a formal funding agreement.

The auditor’s findings drew criticism from some members of the chamber, who met for the first time since pandemic restrictions began in person today.

Councilor Ian Cockburn said Wester Ross and more remote parts of Highland are not seeing the benefits of the Inverness-based performance venue.

“Council cannot continue to pour money into Eden Court,” Councilor Cockburn said. “Eden Court needs to start paying its share of this advice.”

However, council finance bosses have pointed out that beyond revenue support, the council’s capital program includes an opportunity for larger-scale redevelopment, which could generate more revenue.

Councilor Gordon Adam – a member of Eden Court’s board – said his ambitious capital plans would make it even less dependent on public funding. Eden Court also has an in-house production company for the first time in 40 years. Cllr Adam says this will extend the benefits beyond Inverness.

“Eden Court was quick to fulfill its responsibilities,” said Cllr Adam. “Frankly, as a member of the board for five years, I have been extremely impressed with the way Eden Court is run and I think its relationship with the board is very fruitful.”

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