The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River has bowed to long-running community concerns and appointed volunteer-driven group Arts Margaret River to manage its floundering entertainment venue. The new, previously secret management arrangements were disclosed in further detail this week in a media statement ahead of detailed inquiries by this newspaper asking for disclosure of how up to $1.389 million of ratepayers’ money would be spent. The Times also asked why Shire councillors had agreed to withhold details of their key decision — and accept a redacted, $40,000 consultants’ report — despite acknowledging serious problems since the $10m-plus Margaret River Heart venue opened under Shire management. The consultants’ report by Monica Kane and June Moorhouse revealed despite considerable challenges presented during the COVID-19 pandemic, the venue had failed to follow national industry benchmarks, didn’t offer good value for money, and caused widespread angst in the arts community for its grants program, cost to hire, and in alienating users. The Shire this week declined to provide details of what would happen to the Heart’s existing personnel, including general manager Nicky Hansen, who moved to the region from Queensland’s Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre. However, Shire president Paula Cristoffanini indicated staff could be retained as part of an internal restructure deemed necessary to cope with population growth. “Costings for the model also includes the cost of the Shire developing a more strategic approach to arts and cultural development through an internal restructure of current staffing arrangements and responsibilities within a new team that brings together the community development team and Heart operations staff,” Cr Cristoffanini said. And while the Times asked how the council was responding to community calls for greater efficiency and keeping costs down, it looked likely the management change would maintain Heart expenses — though firmer figures would be known once the new model was in effect, with a full report and disclosure going before councillors in November. “We are in a challenging economic environment and are acutely aware of the impact of inflation on community members,” Cr Cristoffanini said. The consultants offered a high-level look at financial modelling for the proposed new deal, which they recommended. “The approach taken by the consultants was to ensure best value to the community for every dollar spent,” the Shire president said. “What is clear is that the Heart is very important to our community and people are seeking a stronger connection with it. “We know people want easier access and seven-day-a-week opening times.” Under the guidance of acting chief executive Graeme Davis, a transition model would pave the way for Arts Margaret River to take the reins after the November council resolution, Cr Cristoffanini said.