Newcastle Harness Racing Club will not replace former chief executive Tony Drew in a move chairman Jim Bell hopes will help the organisation become “cash positive” after a decade of significant losses.
Drew retired at the end of June, leaving long-time administration manager Wayne Smith to run the club alongside accounts manager Mark Petersen and business development manager Jane Hextell.
Harness Racing NSW provided consultant Paul Weekes to look at the club’s operations from August and he will offer final recommendations to the Newcastle board at the end of this month.
However, Bell confirmed the existing administration will remain without a new CEO. Smith has been upgraded to a secretary manager position and Hextell has increased from three to four days a week work to compensate for the staff reduction.
Bell said the management plan and other changes would give the club “a fairly large saving”, although the new structure would be in place initially as a trial.
“I wouldn’t think that is forever,” Bell said. “But that model suits everybody at the moment and we’ll see how it goes. Wayne’s worked with [former CEOs] Ross [Gigg] and Tony and he gets on well with Mark and Jane. He’s been working up to this over the years and hopefully it will work.”
NHRC posted a record loss of about $240,000 for the 2016-17 financial year, which was a ninth consecutive annual deficit of more than $90,000. Bell said the 2017-18 financial report was yet to go to members but “it wasn’t any better than the other ones”. He said, though, that Weekes’ budget for the current financial year had already proved successful.
“Paul has been very good and he has come up with a plan which enables us to get back to cash positive,” he said. “On the budget Paul has set, the first couple of months have been positive.”
Bell said the other changes were “not dramatic” and “just general tightening”. The Herald understands cuts to catering are part of proposed cost-saving measures.
“It’s recognising that in the winter, it’s very difficult to open the whole shebang, with smaller crowds,” he said. “We will have to make decisions that are not popular with everybody, but they recognise that the major function of the club is to provide racing for participants.”
HRNSW changes are also helping the club improve its bottom line.
Following a review of the Newcastle club’s operations this year, HRNSW introduced a $1000-per-meeting electricity subsidy to tracks running night programs. HRNSW is also phasing in a takeover of stewards costs from clubs. Bell said Newcastle’s stewards costs were $90,000 last season but HRNSW would absorb a third of the burden this year.
“You’re coming up with enough to not necessarily make a profit, but to make us not cash negative, which is a good place to start,” he said.
Smith will also continue his role as honourary secretary of the Maitland club, which holds its first meeting of the season on Friday.