HUGE financial problems at one of the region’s top visitor attractions have been laid bare at a tribunal where one of its former senior managers is claiming unfair dismissal.
Alnwick Garden bosses were forced to embark on a major cost-cutting programme after the attraction made a trading profit of just £30,000 and suffered a net loss of £400,000 in 2011.
The Garden, which was set up by the Duchess of Northumberland and is said to have put £150m into the UK economy over its 10-year history, needed a £6m interest-free loan from the Duke of Northumberland’s estates to save it from “crippling” interest payments.
The perilous state of affairs at the Garden was outlined at an employment tribuna which is hearing a case relating to its former director of development, Philip Spencer.
Mr Spencer says he was sacked for blowing the whistle on alleged improper use of two donations to the Garden and concerns over a new online ticketing programme. The attraction says he was made redundant during a cost-cutting programme.
During the hearing, the Garden’s managing director David Ronn told how Northumberland Estates, the duke’s business venture, is effectively acting as “the Garden’s bank”.
It was also revealed that Mr Ronn himself, a former regional director at the National Trust in the North East, faces redundancy to be replaced by the duchess in a matter of weeks.
The tribunal heard that £100,000 of donations given to the Alnwick Garden Trust, the attraction’s charity, were used by Alnwick Garden Enterprises (AGE), its business, for day-to-day running costs.
An investigation by the Garden’s accountant, Ryecroft Glenton, showed the payments were “unrestricted” and could legally be used by the business arm to support the charity indirectly.
But Garden managers faced with turning the financial fortunes of the attraction round could not work out exactly what the money had been spent on.