Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (20-39)



  20. I understood that there was something called English Heritage Hospitality too?
  (Ms Alexander) Yes. We launched that very recently at three of our London properties. That is making property available for corporate or private entertainment.

  21. How much do you charge when you lend out a property?
  (Ms Alexander) It varies. The three properties at which we are piloting this scheme, Chiswick House, Eltham Palace and Kenwood House, are all in London. If I can give you an example; a two hour reception in the house at Kenwood is £4,000[2] and any extension beyond half an hour is £1,000 per hour. That, of course, has a major art gallery within the house and we have just finished a major refurbishment project, and both of those facts will be reflected in the price that we charge, which is at the top end of the market.

  22. Is that a consistent price all through?
  (Ms Alexander) No, indeed not. The prices would be different for the different houses.

  23. For each house you have a set price per hour?
  (Ms Alexander) We have a number of different prices according to whether it is a dinner, reception, the time of day or weekend, in effect, both reflecting the market and our likely costs.

  24. Are the properties then closed to the public?
  (Ms Alexander) We only allow corporate entertaining in the hours when the properties would be closed to the public any way.

  25. None of these properties have ever been closed to the public at a time when the public would normally be allowed in?
  (Ms Alexander) I do not think I can say that, but it is certainly our normal rule that it would be very much the exception for that to be the case.

  26. My understanding is that there was a wedding at Kenwood given by ex-King Constantine?
  (Ms Alexander) That is true[3].

  27. Was there a contract with him as to what the price would be?
  (Ms Alexander) There was no corporate hospitality at Kenwood at that time, so we had no basis on which to enter into a contract with him[4]. Instead, a donation was offered.

  28. Has a donation been received?
  (Ms Alexander) Yes, it has.

  29. How much was that?
  (Ms Alexander) It was £5,000.

  30. How long did he have it for?
  (Ms Alexander) He did not use the house at all[5], he used a marquee and it was in use during Friday. At that time the house had not been refurbished. The major project through which we re-decorated the whole of the interior where the major art gallery is housed had not yet started, and it is on the basis of that refurbishment that we have put such a high price on the Kenwood lettings.

  31. This wedding took place when?
  (Ms Alexander) July last year. At that point we only had one house in which we were launching our corporate hospitality pilot, and that was Chiswick House[6]. The prices for letting Chiswick are considerably lower than those for Kenwood.

  32. When did you get the donation?
  (Ms Alexander) We received that very recently.

  33. Why did you not get it at the time?
  (Ms Alexander) It has taken some time to sort out all the costs, I am sure, and a donation is something which is difficult to press for.

  34. Would you ever again rent out a place without having a contract?
  (Ms Alexander) I think if we are looking at an individual case on a building where we do not normally let it we would certainly look at the circumstances of the individual case. We certainly would always make sure, as we did in the case of Kenwood, that every penny of our own costs are covered, as indeed they were.

  35. It is bit odd though, is it not, to rent out a place unless you are sure you are going to get a proper return? You presumably would not normally rent out a public building for a private function unless you were sure you were going to make a sufficient sum out of it to make it worth while from the public interest point of view?
  (Ms Alexander) A return is achieved in a number of different ways. We did feel with Kenwood that at a time when we were launching our corporate hospitality, and we knew that this would be extended to Kenwood this year, the sort of publicity that we would get from the Royal wedding reception there—and which, indeed, we did get—would be worth many column inches of advertising revenue which we certainly would never be able to spend on Kenwood ourselves. So the return was not simply the donation and the return of our own costs, it was also what we felt to be very valuable publicity for the house, which is a general benefit to ensure that people know what the house is and they can visit it and which we also felt sure would help our corporate hospitality once we launched that, which we did last month.

  36. Did you judge the value of that publicity?
  (Ms Alexander) We have not put a pound sign value on it[7]. We considered in advance of the event that it was difficult to do so, and after the event we were very pleased with the publicity we received.

  37. You rented it out without having a contract in return for the offer for a donation plus costs and without having valued the amount of publicity on which you would justify doing so?
  (Ms Alexander) We felt it was a good opportunity.

  38. Would you ever do that again?
  (Ms Alexander) I would have to look at the circumstances of an individual case. If someone came to me with what seemed like a very positive opportunity, we would negotiate the best terms for English Heritage.

  39. Are you confident that these were best terms?
  (Ms Alexander) I think we got a good return.

2   Note by Witness: A 2 hour reception at the house in Kenwood is £4,000 at the weekend and £3,000 during the week. Back

3   Note by Witness: The event was a wedding reception, not a wedding. Back

4   Note by Witness: There was a written contract with the event organisers to recover English Heritage's costs in addition to the donation. Back

5   Note by Witness: Whilst the guests did not use the house, the wedding party did. Back

6   Note by Witness: The scheme had also been extended to Eltham Palace on 16 June 1999. Back

7   Note by Witness: The value of the coverage has now been assessed independently as between £790,000 and £2 million. Back

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