A Department for the Economy spokesperson said: “The Minister recognises the huge importance of HMS Caroline (HMSC) as part of our maritime history, and the importance of remembering and honouring the sacrifices made by those who served in the Navy during the First World War.
“Following an agreement between the Department for the Economy (DfE) and the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), HMS Caroline fully opened as a maritime heritage visitor attraction in Belfast in April 2018, having first opened on 31st May 2016 for a period to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.
“Visitor numbers are key to the sustainability of this attraction, which is reliant on ticket sales and spend at the café or shop. However, visitor numbers have been disappointing to date, resulting in operational deficits. The Department has been concerned about these deficits for some time and has been working closely with NMRN, who also act as operators, to attempt to make the attraction more profitable, reduce deficits and ensure greater value for the use of public funds. However, due to the Covid-19 crisis the attraction closed to the public on 17th March 2020.
“The Department was first informed of operational deficits in October 2018 and NMRN has still been unable to verify the totality of these. This was unexpected as the original business plan indicated no deficits would occur on the project until 2022/23. The Department has deployed external consultants to fully establish and confirm the totality of this deficit and this work is still ongoing. It is expected to report in August 2020. However, to help with cash-flow issues during the Covid-19 crisis, the Department has already made a substantial interim payment to NMRN.
“The Agreement that the Department had with NMRN to operate the attraction expired on 30th June 2020. The NMRN took the decision not to renew this Agreement without a revised funding model being put in place and they notified the Department of this on 10th June 2020. This did not leave sufficient time for the Department to formulate a new funding model, redraft a new operating agreement or to procure a new operator of the attraction.
“Therefore, the Department agreed with NMRN to extend the current period of closure of the attraction until 31st December 2020.The Department will utilise this period of closure to fully and thoroughly examine in detail all options and costs for the future of the attraction, taking into account how the tourism sector in Northern Ireland is likely to recover in the short, medium and long term.
“The Department has also advised NMRN that it will meet agreed costs associated with this period of temporary closure, which include salary costs of two members of staff who will be maintaining and overseeing the ship during this time. The remainder of the HMSC staff are currently on furlough through the Job Retention Scheme.”
Notes to editors:
- Follow us on Twitter @EconomyNI
- For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The Duty Press Officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
- Minister announces Neueda to expand in Belfast with 230 new jobs 06 August 2020
- Minister delivers keynote speech to Shoosmiths Business Web Seminar 06 August 2020
- County Tyrone motor trader fined and ordered to pay compensation for falsifying car documents 05 August 2020
- Economy Minister Diane Dodds highlights the strengths and potential of Northern Ireland’s Life and Health Sciences sector 04 August 2020