HC Deb 28 May 1970 vol 801 cc553-4W
Mr. Gregory

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he has considered the report of the management consultants commissioned by him, as a result of the request of the society for a loan, to inquire into the operations of the Zoological Society of London; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Silkin:

My predecessor informed the House on 25th February, 1969 [Vol. 778, col. 284] that the Zoological Society of London were in financial difficulties and that the Government had therefore arranged for the Bank of England to lend the Society up to £375,000, subject to Government guarantee, the loan to be finally repayable not later than 1st July, 1970. He added that, in the meantime, management consultants would be engaged to carry out an examination of the Society's operations with a view to putting their finances on a satisfactory footing over a longer period.

This examination has now been carried out. In their report, the consultants while acknowledging the great progress made by the Society in the last few years, have concluded that substantial Government help is essential to enable the Society to place their finances on a sound basis. They have recommended that the Government should repay the short-term debts incurred by the Society in their capital rebuilding programme and should also bear a share of the cost of the remaining part of the programme to which many benefactors have generously contributed. Given this assistance, together with the implementation of various measures which they have proposed for achieving a surplus on revenue account and the Society's own continued strenuous efforts to the same end, the consultants are confident that the Society can achieve financial stability in the longer term.

In the light of these recommendations, the Government have decided to make a grant of £650,000 to the Society to enable it to repay its short-term debts, and also to waive repayment of the Government loan of £250,000 made to the Society in 1964. In addition, they will provide assistance, subject to certain conditions, up to a total of £700,000 towards the Society's capital rebuilding programme over the period 1970–74. In providing the Society with this substantial measure of support, the Government have had in mind that the Zoo has become in fact, if not in form, a national institution, that it is a major London amenity and also an important tourist attraction.

In view of the urgency, the £650,000 needed to repay the short-term debt will be provided by drawing on the Civil Contingencies Fund. The authority of Parliament will be sought by the presentation of a Supplementary Estimate for the grant of £650,000 and the waiving of the Government loan.