At a special Policy & Resources committee on 27 February 2023, councillors scrutinised, challenged, and quizzed the i360 board about the financial performance of the attraction for almost four hours.
The board said they were committed to delivering for the city and were sorry for having let people down. They cited several problems including the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis for lower visitor numbers and the knock-on effect this has had on revenue.
The i360 has missed several of its loan payments despite a restructure designed to support the attraction since the pandemic. Most recently, an agreement to pay £900,000 was missed in December 2022.
New plans for the attraction
The board presented to councillors a new operating strategy with added revenue streams.
New immersive events and an enhanced food and drink offer are among plans to attract more visitors and make the most of the central seafront location.
After considering the plans, cross party councillors agreed that giving the attraction more time to turn things around was the best option to maximise the council’s return and protect the public purse.
Measures going forward
The committee agreed to:
- Note the i360’s new strategy along with the potential improved financial outcomes
- Reaffirm the council’s key focus to ensure as much of the public money owed by the i360 is paid back as quickly as possible
- Reserve the council’s right to step in and enforce its rights under the loan agreement and security documentation
- Commission restructuring experts to ensure regular and frequent finance updates and cash flow forecasts from the i360
- Seek further details on the short-term plan for the summer 2023 season by the end of May - with the expectation that this will demonstrate the likelihood of repayment progress within 2023
- Seek significant reassurance of the viability of a new long-term business plan through the i360 member working group
- Require i360 to pay the council a minimum of £1 million over the next financial year in order not to add to its financial burden
Securing loan repayments as quickly as possible
Council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty said: “The i360 repayment situation is urgent. The city has invested in the i360 and expects to see returns both in financial terms and in the quality of provision that the attraction is offering to maximise payments.
“As such, the number one priority is to secure repayment of as much of the loan as quickly as possible.
“The i360 board is responsible for its operations and the repayment programme. While it is positive that these innovations are being identified, we have stressed the need for the plans to be well-evidenced with information about the speediest delivery model provided to the city council as soon as possible.
Delivering results for the city
“We have called for a specific plan for both the upcoming summer season as well as a longer-term plan which will be forged from testing its efficacy in the coming months.
“There is no doubt the entire tourism sector has had a gruelling few years, from Covid recovery to the cost-of-living crisis, and this has been no different for the i360.
“However, we need better from the i360 board. We need to feel confident the attraction is safe in their hands, that they have a robust plan, and that the city will see results as fast as possible.”