Rugby council hits back after Hall of Fame criticism in Private Eye magazine

The Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame.

Rugby council has hit back after being criticised in the Rotton Boroughs section of Private Eye magazine for its handling of the Hall of Fame.

Featured in Private Eye and written anonymously, the article brands the Hall of Fame the "Hall of Shame" and accuses Rugby Borough Council of excessive spending and a lack of planning.

The article states: "With no business plan, excessive spending and no basis for any income projections, it looks like the RBC went into this financial agreement blindly hoping it would be a magic money tree. How long before it's kicked into touch?"

It also states the Hall of Fame, which opened above the town's library, art gallery and museum in 2016, was forecast to generate £500,000 a year for the council.

It argues that in a recent meeting leader of the council Cllr Michael Stokes said income from ticket sales so far totaled £15,000.

The article claims the Hall of Fame attracted 15,604 visitors in its first year.

A spokesperson for Rugby council said there has never been a forecast of £500,000 for the attraction.

The spokesperson said: "Visitor charges were introduced to make the attraction more attractive to group visit organisers.

"Charges were introduced part-way through the year, leading the contributor to incorrect assumptions about the number of attendances on free visit days."

The article states the annual cost of hosting, operating and licensing the Hall of Fame is nearly £350,000, in addition to £1.2 million reportedly spent on developing the building to host the attraction.

Other expenses the article highlights include £20,000 on signage advertising the attraction at the local railway station and a "jolly" which saw Cllr Stokes flown to Japan last year at a cost of £5,000 to the tax payer.

It states the trip's aim was to "to promote [the town] as a tourism venue" and argues the benefit derived from the trip is "not clear."

Addressing the £5,000 trip to Japan, a spokesperson for the council said: "The visit to the World Cup draw in Japan has already resulted in opportunities for promotion at Rugby World Cup 2019 and closer links with host cities.

"This visit cost less than £5,000 for flights, accommodation and all other expenses (including translation) for the leader and executive director to both attend.

"Other opportunities arising from the visit, including with potential sponsors, continue to be explored. World Rugby has always led on potential sponsorship."

Cllr Michael Stokes, Leader of Rugby Borough Council, said: “Sadly, the Private Eye’s local contributor has misunderstood nearly all of the figures that we provided in response to his recent Freedom of Information request.

“He is also clearly of the view that the World Rugby Hall of Fame project was meant to be a commercial project, which is manifestly not the case.

“Councillors from all political groups accepted unanimously that there would be a net cost to the council and that the benefits of supporting the diversification of the town centre with a world class visitor attraction outweighed the potential costs.

“For the first time in our history Rugby has a visitor attraction of which our residents can be proud. By working together and with our partners we can make the most of this valuable asset for the benefit of our town centre, our residents and businesses.”

Leader of the Labour Group of Rugby Borough Council, Claire Edwards said: “The article printed in Private Eye magazine this week is very concerning.

"Whilst it's important that we recognise the unique heritage of Rugby, we also have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers money is spent in an appropriate way.

"It's clear that there is a gap between the amount of money spent on licensing and even foreign trips when the amount of income from ticket sales is relatively so small.

“The Labour Group has always supported the Hall of Fame but made it clear our concerns that the finances have to stack up and that securing early sponsorship was key.

Rugby Labour Party said it is calling on the council to redouble efforts to achieve sponsorship, and to bring forward contingency plans in case the funds do not materialise.