Meeting documents

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Return to Agenda


Division(s): Witney, All









Report by Director for Social & Community Services




1.                  The fundamental review of Cultural Services concluded that, given the resources available, it was not possible to justify maintaining Cogges Manor Farm Museum as a visitor attraction and educational facility at a net cost to the County Council.  The Council decided to maintain funding for Cogges for 2008/9 at the current level (£240,000), but to reduce funding over the following two years to £160,000 and £80,000 and to zero in year three. At the same time the Council wanted to seek a long term sustainable future for Cogges, retaining public access to much of the site and a level of heritage education/interpretation.


2.                  A Project Board was established in February 2008, chaired by the Director for Social and Community Services. Membership has included two members of the Cabinet, Cogges Trust representatives, Oxford Preservation Trust and West Oxfordshire District Council. The Board identified clear objectives for its work:


(a)               To seek a long term sustainable future for the Museum, retaining public access to much of the site and a level of heritage education/interpretation in such a way to meet the financial plan set out by the County Council.


(b)               To work with the Cogges Trust to seek external funding, grant aid, sponsorship and to maximise income potential.


(c)               To identify possible commercial partners/providers to achieve necessary investment and increased income from compatible commercial uses.


3.                  Initiated by the Cogges Agricultural Heritage Museum Trust, a public meeting was held in Cogges Church in February 2008. The meeting was attended by 180 people. Subsequently a database of people interested in the future of Cogges has been created and a monthly Bulletin has been distributed to them (and members of the Council) in order to inform them about the work of the Board. A further public meeting was held on 4 November to explain the recommendations in this report being considered by the Cabinet (see below paragraph 14).




4.                  On the advice and recommendation of English Heritage, the Board commissioned a Conservation Statement. A copy has been placed in the Members’ Resource Room. The Statement provides an overview of the historic significance of Cogges; it reinforces its status as a monument of national importance, and the duty of care on the Council to continue to maintain it to the highest standards. Compliance with the Statement has been stated explicitly as an objective for any future use of the site. In their response to the Statement, English Heritage has indicated its proposal to raise the listing status of the Cogges Manor House from Grade II* to Grade I. This represents a reorganization of the listing criteria, rather than implying any further constraints on the use of the building.




5.                  Publicity surrounding the Council’s decision-making process prompted a number of external organizations and individuals to come forward with ideas for operating Cogges in future. The national Network of Rural Museums and other specialist individuals have provided advice and consultancy. All of these ideas have been welcomed and considered by the Board. Officers have worked with and advised individuals about their ideas and this work has led to a joint proposal by the Cogges Community Enterprise Group. Letters inviting proposals from other ‘heritage’ operators were sent out in order to seek the widest possible exposure.


6.                  As a result of those invitations, two commercial heritage/environmental operators submitted formal proposals and business plans.


7.                  In order to evaluate these proposals thoroughly and objectively the Board commissioned an external consultant to carry out a full options appraisal. This work was commissioned in August and the consultant’s report was completed in October. The full report contains detailed business plans and other information relating to the businesses involved and has therefore been kept confidential for reasons of commercial sensitivity. The Executive Summary, also containing commercially sensitive information, is attached as Annex 1.


8.                  The public should therefore be excluded during consideration of Annex 1 because its discussion in public would be likely to lead to the disclosure to members of the public present of information in the following category prescribed by Part I of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended):


3        Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information);


since it is considered that, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information, in that such disclosure would prejudice the commercial position of the parties involved.


9.                  The options appraisal reviews four options:


(a)               Commercial company A

This proposal aims to refresh the heritage interpretation and increase marketing significantly with a target of attracting 40,000 visitors in year 1, rising to 100,000 by year 4. The business plan also relies on being able to use the barns and other buildings for weddings and corporate functions. The company currently operates a number of other heritage attractions. The bid assumes that the County Council will ‘make good the site’ investing up to £1.5 million capital.


(b)               Commercial company B

Similarly this proposal will enhance the heritage interpretation of the museum; create free entry to parts of the site; create an extensive new indoor children’s play facility (with an admission fee); increase marketing and introduce a local membership scheme; and expand the education programme. The company currently operates a large scale environmental centre in the Midlands attracting 220,000 visitors per year. The business plan assumes a subsidy of £480,000 over three years.


(c)               Cogges Community Enterprise Group

This proposal includes free entry to the site, year round opening, heritage interpretation and using the garden and farm to demonstrate sustainable living. The site is envisaged as a local food hub, with outlets for local producers, a farm shop and café. The Manor House would be used for art and craft exhibitions, and one of the barns as a theatre. The Community Enterprise Group emerged from a large number of individuals who met to consider ideas for the future of Cogges earlier in the year. Although as a group they have no track record of managing a site, individually they have many skills and attributes. The Group has considerable fund raising expertise and as a Community Group it is most likely to be successful at raising money externally. The business plan assumes revenue support of £240,000 over two years, followed by £50,000 pa thereafter.


(d)               Mothballing the site

This option involves closing Cogges entirely and simply maintaining the site. The cost of security, minimum staffing, and basic maintenance would be £55,000 per year.


10.             The Options Appraisal report goes on to suggest that the Council could devolve the management of Cogges to a new independent charitable trust (the current trust has no executive powers); and that new trust should be tasked with developing and implementing the vision of the Cogges Community Enterprise Group. The Board of Governors of such a trust, which should include members of the Community Enterprise Group, would require a range of skills including management, human resources, accountancy, retail, training and heritage.  A trust would benefit from the fiscal advantages of charitable status and create new opportunities for sponsorship and external funding. The report suggests that the trust would require a minimum of £160,000 pa subsidy for a minimum of two years; however this option is likely to require less capital investment than option a and possibly options b and c.


2009 Season


11.             Originally it was planned to work towards a hand-over to the new operator for the 2009 season, but discussions with each of the proposers, together with the delay in reporting to Cabinet in order to ensure consultation, indicate that this will not be practical. It is therefore now planned that the Museum Service will continue to manage Cogges through 2009, on the reduced budget. A service and business plan for 2009 has been accepted by the Project Board. The plan proposes opening Cogges for Easter, as usual; maintaining existing opening hours and admission charges; but closing Cogges at the end of August.


Financial and Staff Implications


12.             Staff have been kept informed throughout the process and are to be commended for maintaining very high levels of public service (visitor numbers for 2008 are up 20% on last year) despite the uncertainty over their future employment. Operating Cogges on a reduced budget through 2009/10 requires a reduction in staffing and the process to implement this has already begun. All staff are aware that their posts will cease (with the exception of a site administrator (p/t) and gardener (p/t)) from September 2009. Given the significant gap between the end of the Council’s management of Cogges and the likely start date with a new operator and the significant changes anticipated, Legal Services advise that TUPE regulations will not apply.  Unison will continue to be involved in staffing issues throughout.


13.             Each of the proposals acknowledges that the financial viability of operating Cogges is dependent on being able to make much more intensive and commercial use of some of the farm outbuildings. The estimated cost of the necessary work is approximately £1.5 million. One of the commercial proposals expects the Council to find the funding for this. Although the work is likely to be eligible for Heritage Lottery Fund support this is unlikely to be forthcoming until after 2012.  It would also be difficult for a commercial organisation to access this source of funding. A capital budget of £150,000 (10% of the estimated total cost) is recommended below as matching funding.




14.             A presentation outlining this report and its recommendations was made to the Cogges Agricultural Heritage Museum Trust on 3 November. That Trust supports these recommendations and commends the work of the Project Board.


15.             At the Public Meeting on 4 November again there was general support for the Community Enterprise Group proposal. Questions were asked about the detail of the relationships between the Council and the new Trust, and the new Trust and the Community Enterprise Group. It was acknowledged that more work needs to be done (in discussion with the Community Enterprise Group) to resolve and confirm those relationships.




16.             The Cabinet is RECOMMENDED:


(a)               to instruct officers to establish a new charitable trust to manage Cogges Manor Farm Museum (including employment of staff and service delivery). That trust to be tasked with developing and implementing the vision of the Cogges Community Enterprise Group;


(b)              to instruct officers to draw up a legal agreement between the Trust and Council, for a minimum of three years (from 2010), detailing what is expected from both organisations. The Council will remain the owner of the heritage asset (land, buildings and collections);


(c)               to recommend to Council in setting its budget the allocation of additional financial support to the Trust for 2010/11 (£80,000 in addition to the existing subsidy of £80,000) and 2011/12 (£160,000) and


(d)              to include  an allocation of £150,000 in its recommended capital programme  as matching funding towards the necessary capital work at Cogges in support of an application for external funding in 2010/11. 




Director for Social & Community Services


Background papers:             (a)  Options Appraisal (Confidential)

(b)  Conservation Statement


Contact Officer:                     Martyn Brown, Heritage and Arts Officer

Tel: (01993) 814114


November 2008


Return to TOP