Three of Hong Kong's top performing groups should be concerned in the wake of news that Urban Councillors are reviving plans to hive them off. Some members of the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (HKRT) and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra (HKCO) must have heard about such a plan seven years ago when the Urban Council decided that hiving off the two companies was in the long-term interest of the groups. And given civil servants' sensitivity about privatisation or corporatisation, it would have been a relief for many of the members of the two companies when the municipal body apparently changed tack and put the plan on hold. Why should such a big change be implemented when public servants' morale is so badly affected by the shadow of the sovereignty change next June? Questions like this must have been asked by those who are likely to be affected by any plan to hive off the companies. But if we look at some of the statistics related to the arts groups, many will agree that perhaps privatisation is not such a bad thing. Judging from the number of shows the three groups have given in the last five financial years and the size of audiences they have attracted, it is not difficult to conclude that with the exception of the HKRT, the other two groups' performance is unsatisfactory. Between 1991 and this year, the HKRT gave an average of about 100 local performances every year and their attendance rate stayed at an impressive 85 per cent or more. Over the same period, the HKCO gave about 40 shows a year, and the average attendance was less impressive at between 60 and 76 per cent. But worst of all was the Hong Kong Dance Company (HKDC). The number of local performances was about 20 a year and the average attendance rate was not only lower than the two other companies but also showed a declining trend in recent years. Urban Services Department officials are said to be alarmed about the poor turnout in the group's first programme this year as less than 20 per cent of the tickets were sold. Perhaps people will suggest the phenomenon reflects that Hong Kong people are simply not keen on the arts. But if we look at the performances of some non-government performing groups, one may conclude that the government-run companies have failed in their jobs. According to the annual report of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, which was established in April 1994, the council allocated a total of $40.165 million as year-round support grants to six professional companies and an information centre. They include the Chung Ying Theatre, the Exploration Theatre and the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society. The six companies staged a total of 2,995 performances and reached an audience of 530,949 in 1994-95. How much did the three government performing companies do in the same year with a total budget of $73.9 million? The statistics show that they staged only 339 performances - educational school tours included - and the total audience size they attracted was 245,160, less than half of the turnout the six non-government companies had. It may be argued that this is not a fair comparison because the private companies might have secured other sponsorships. But this is precisely the point. If the private groups were out drumming up audiences and sponsorships and staged good shows, why should taxpayers be still supporting the 'fat cats'? It is really time for someone to take a hard look at whether the community is getting the best value for money.