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State Govt tried to help save Royal Croquet Club

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The State Government, entangled in the disastrous China venture blamed for pushing the Royal Croquet Club into voluntary administration, attempted to help save the event's parent company from collapse, InDaily can reveal.

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The Royal Croquet Club – a popular Adelaide Fringe event which this year moved from Victoria Square to the riverbank – attracts more than 200,000 visitors and employs dozens of casual staff each year.

It’s the brainchild of Adelaide entrepreneurs Tom Skipper and Stuart Duckworth, and has become a key symbol of the “city vibrancy” agenda promoted by the State Government and City Council.

The event was rebadged as the Royale Adelaide Club (sometimes referred to as the Royal Adelaide Club) for the Qingdao International Beer Festival last year, as one of the outcomes of the state’s largest-ever trade delegation to China – led by Premier Jay Weatherill and including City Council representatives.

It was intended to showcase South Australia and attract Chinese tourism and investment in the state.

But Skipper and Duckworth announced yesterday they had suffered more than $1 million in losses at the festival and that Royal Croquet Club Adelaide and its parent company The Social Creative had been forced into voluntary administration as a result.

InDaily can now reveal that the State Government knew of The Social Creative’s financial difficulties following the China trip, and offered contacts within and outside of government, as well as advice and support – but not extra cash – to help the company survive.

Responding to questions from InDaily this morning, a spokesperson said in a statement: “The State Government was made aware of the financial difficulties of The Social Creative and offered advice and support.

“At no time was additional financial assistance offered.

“[However] the Government offered to put The Social Creative in contact with other agencies inside and outside of government to explore future options.”

According to The Social Creative, Chinese authorities gave assurances they would waive all duties and taxes relating to imported goods for the Royale Adelaide Club event – but this never occurred, meaning “hundreds of thousands of dollars” had to be spent releasing SA food and wine from customs.

The company also says Chinese authorities did not follow through on an agreement to pay for power and water, while “constant delays from the Chinese led to a majority of third-party sponsorships never materialising”.

InDaily has obtained a copy of a letter from Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese, sent to the Director-General of the Huangdao District People’s Government in Qingdao in July 2016, requesting a series of concessions one behalf of the Royale Adelaide Club.

“I understand that the Royal [sic] Adelaide Club team are currently on site in Huangdao, preparing their activation for the 2016 Qingdao International Beer Festival,” says the letter bearing Haese’s signature.

“There are however three items that I am hoping you may be able to assist the Royal Adelaide Club with that they are currently trying to resolve.

“… there is to be no flame, gas, charcoal or wood burning on site, or at the Qingdao International Beer Festival.

“BBQ style cooking is a key component of the Royal Adelaide Club activation and I understand that they have previously submitted plans outlining this requirement.

“… Your favourable consideration of this matter would be greatly appreciated.”

The second item Haese requests is assistance with the cost of powering the site.

“I understand that the agreement between the Royal Adelaide Club and the organisers of the Beer Festival states power and water is to be included and covered by the organisers,” the letter reads.

“I understand that the Beer Festival organisers have informed the Royal Adelaide Club of a $250,000RMB charge to connect the power to the areas required.

“Your support in resolving this issue would also be greatly appreciated.”

The letter also says Qingdao Mayor Zhang Xinqi “indicated his comfort” in exempting import duties and taxes for the event.

“I understand the Royal Adelaide Club have a suggested process to manage this and I would encourage you to discuss this further directly with them to resolve a mutually beneficial outcome,” it says.

Haese confirmed to InDaily he wrote the letter.

He said it was “indicative of the advocacy and assistance that we have provided to Royal Croquet Club … over several years”.

“Each of the items noted in the letter were either brought to my attention by the directors [of the corporation] or offered by Chinese officials,” he added.

Last year’s trade mission to China included more than 160 people from more than 100 companies, as well as representatives from sports, the arts, universities, the State Government and the Adelaide City Council.

Weatherill said at the time that it was “pleasing to see that exports by South Australian small-to-medium enterprises, producing food, wine and advanced manufacturing products is continuing to rise and the State Government is determined to ramp up its international engagement program to continue its support of these businesses”.

InDaily contacted Duckworth this morning, but he did not respond.

A council spokesperson said yesterday that: “The City of Adelaide appreciates and recognises the great events that The Social Creative and the Royal Croquet Club put on and the people and activity that these events bring to the city.”

“The Royal Croquet Club and The Social Creative have quickly become a key element of Adelaide’s dynamic festival program as well as a key element of city activation.

“[The] council has worked closely with them over many years to provide support for their events and to give them the best chance of success. We wish them all the best in working through their current difficulties.”

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