Harrogate Convention Centre forecasts £1.4m income loss as it remains on alert as NHS Nightingale hospital

Harrogate Convention Centre has revealed it is on course for a further financial slump as it remains on standby as an NHS Nightingale hospital.

Thursday, 12th November 2020, 9:29 am
Updated Thursday, 12th November 2020, 9:36 am

The council-run conference venue is predicting its overall income and economic impact to be “down considerably” until the end of March when it is due to be handed back over for business use.

A report from Harrogate Borough Council’s finance team, put to a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, revealed how the centre is forecasting a £1.4m loss in income as it remains on standby, ready to be called into action and treat coronavirus patients.

It should come as no surprise that the centre is facing further challenges as the hard-hit events and exhibitions industry has still not been able to fully reopen since being shut down seven months ago.

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A report has revealed Harrogate Convention Centre is forecasting a 1.4m loss in income as it remains on standby as an NHS Nightingale hospital.

However, there remain questions over whether the sector can fully bounce back and, therefore, if a planned £47m renovation of the centre would be worthwhile.

Harrogate Borough Council is drawing up a business case for the potential refurbishment after a report warned there is a “very real risk” the venue will not survive without significant investment.

Centre director, Paula Lorimer, has revealed high-level talks with the government have taken place regarding a possible ‘compensation’ payment in recognition for the centre being used as a Nightingale Hospital.

She hopes that such a package would then be used to help pay for the £47m improvements.

A council spokesman on behalf of the convention centre said this week: “It is too early to tell what the eventual financial position the convention centre will be in by March 31, but understandably it will be down.

“Like all convention venues across the country the pandemic has had a significant impact on our income, although we have tried to offset this through expenditure reductions where possible. We are, however, continuing to collaborate with our industry friends and peers to help provide a unified voice to engage with the government.

“We need their support to protect the events industry, provide support packages and create a post-Nightingale recovery plan that will allow events to take place safely when the time is right.”

The convention centre was transformed into the 500-bed temporary hospital in April and although it has not treated a single coronavirus patient, it has been asked to get ready in case hospitals across Yorkshire and the Humber are unable to cope.

If needed it could be brought into action within a week, but there are concerns that the area could struggle to staff the hospital as pressure continues to mount on the NHS.

Victoria Eaton, the director of public health at Leeds City Council, previously described the potential of getting sufficient numbers as “incredibly challenging”.

A spokesperson for the Nightingale hospital said: “The NHS Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and the Humber is a valuable resource to support the local area and remains on standby, ready to quickly step up based on expert clinical advice, if needed.

"As part of comprehensive activation plans, a model that can be scaled up as and when additional capacity is required in the region has been developed. This ensures that the right skill mix of staff will be available from NHS trusts in the region.”

Contracts for the centre’s use will expire on March 31 - a year on from when construction of the Nightingale started.

Some conference venues across the UK - including larger Nightingales - were able to reopen for limited events as the government initially lifted some restrictions in early autumn.

There were hopes that Harrogate Convention Centre might have also been released from its Covid duties to support the district’s vital visitor economy, however, talks between council officials and NHS bosses during a resurgence of coronavirus cases concluded with the contract being extended.

Despite the expected losses of over £1m, it is anticipated the centre will be in a “strong position” come 2021 due to a full order book.

A council spokesman on behalf of the convention centre added: “The convention centre generates around £35m annually to the local economy and while this will not be achieved this year, we hope that we can return to this position in future years.

"We will also continue with our ambitious plans for the regeneration of the venue that will provide a venue fit for the future and allow us to return to the top tier of conference and exhibition centres in the UK as we attract new - and bigger - events in the future.”

Plans to rebuild the centre could involve three exhibition halls being demolished to make way for a new 5,000 sq m hall and a refurbished auditorium.

The council would need about £20m to construct the first phase of redevelopment, with another phase planned for later.

A decision on whether the refurbishment should go ahead will be made by councillors at a later date, but there remain firm doubts as to whether the huge expense remains a viable spend in such uncertain times for the conference industry.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter