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Questions raised over funding and impact on town’s indoor markets during debate on council’s plans to run arts hub

Wrexham’s new multi-million pound arts and market development will be operated by Wrexham Council for at least three years.

Plans to continue on with the management of the development at the former Peoples Market rather than hand over to an external trust, were backed unanimously by Executive Board members yesterday in a split agenda item, the second part being the unveiling of the official name for the centre.

Annual reviews of performance of the site will now be delivered to the Executive Board during the next three years.

Last week Wrexham.com reported that plans to hand over the management of the town’s new arts and market hub to a trust had been temporarily scrapped by Wrexham Council.

Previously it had been stressed that trust ownership and management for the ‘OW People’s Market’ was the ‘best way forward’ for the development – opening up additional finance opportunities that the local authority could not access.

However the u-turn from handing the facility over to a trust from 2018 was partly put down to “complexities regarding State Aid and procurement legislation”, which may not have resulted in the ‘local operation that had been envisaged’ by Wrexham Council.

Speaking at yesterday’s Executive Board, Lead Member for communities, partnerships public protection and community safety Cllr Hugh Jones, said keeping the hub in-house would allow the council to “see the project through from its conception”.

He continued: “If you look at the report, bullet point 2.4 refers to a previous decision where as a council we were looking at an externalised model for the delivery of the new hub and the council instructed us to go back and look at options.

“A significant element was to have a local element and trust model. As you can see from the report, it outlines the process in order to reach the conclusion today.

“For procurement reasons it has not been possible to deliver the local trust that members had an aspiration to do.”

Cllr Jones added: “I believe this is a significant part of the journey we’ve been on for last four years, a well constructed report, I think the recommendation before us provides a period of stability, flexibility and opportunity for what I believe to be one of the most exciting developments in Wrexham in years.”

As with previous items debated by councillors at yesterday’s meeting, the main questions on Wrexham Council’s change to the ‘direction of travel’ with the hub were asked by Cllr Dana Davies and Cllr Carrie Harper.

Kicking off the debate Cllr Davies, who had previously raised concerns about the timing of establishing a trust, said: “I had a feeling we would be back here after the conversation in July 2016 Executive Board meeting where we were looking at models of trust. My concern then was how could we get a trust on board at a late stage in the process when the council had already developed a business model and ran with that.

“Looking at the report I’m concerned now as the council are going to be managing the business model for three year time period with a view to still externalise the responsibility for the arts hub, it doesn’t say in the report what those financial implications are going to be.

“Considering there is a cash limited budget for the arts is just shy of £137,000 and the business model talked about a 10 year deficit of between £80k and £200k depending on the 120k continual revenue funding from the Arts Council; I think the position we are in, and we’re all talking in early stages of the council’s budget, so we know roughly what position could be, I’m disappointed there is not more detail around the finances within report.

She added: “It’s the same business plan, just going to continue with this period of three years in house, it does come across during that period it could be an open cheque book. So when the report comes in I would like to see more information about financial implications.”

Cllr Jones pointed out that there would be ‘no open chequebook’ and that the council’s contribution to the project would reduce over the years.

He said: “No where in the Fourth Street model is reference made to £200,000, which I think was the figure you quoted. The biggest deficit is year 1 which is £188,000, which then drops in year two to £126,000 and as Fourth Street business model has referred to and was accepted by us all in 2016, year three refers to a stablished figure of £78,000.

“As you rightly pointed out we are pointing out there is a £137,000 contribution towards our arts activity in Wrexham. Therefore rather than being an open chequebook, which I think were the words used, if you look at the business plan we are actually by year three beginning to reduce the council’s contribution to the arts, so we are generating savings on current expenditure.”

Cllr Davies also queried what procedures had been put in place for any potential changes to the yearly funding from the Arts Council Wales.

In the Fourth Street business plan produced for the hub back in 2015, it listed that an assumed that a £120,000 a year for the next decade will be funded by the Arts Council Wales.

Commenting on the funding, Cllr Jones added: “In terms of Arts Council certainty, we are in constant engagement with them about funding and funding commitment.

“The Arts Council were party to the Fourth Street plan and have taken that on board and have raised no concerns or issues. We have every expectation they will continue to support it.”

There were also calls for clarity on how the council’s management of the new hub would impact on the General and Butchers Markets, and if the local authority would in effect operating two sets of markets in competition with each other.

Although there was not a clear yes or no answer, the meeting was told that the arts hub site would be under one management. It was also noted that the market element will not work in isolation and the council will be “working in partnership with the markets”.

Cllr Carrie Harper pointed out that it was ‘late in the day’ to be looking for appropriate governance, adding: “Even with small projects, you’d expect them earlier on.

“Looking at the report I was wondering why we didn’t have a company limited guarantee as recommended by the consultants? There would be financial implications as the council can’t claim business rates or VAT that outside places can.

“Do we know what the implications are and is there a figure?”

However Cllr Jones reiterated that the project was “not changing” from its current governance and that the business plan for the hub will remain the same.

He said: “It is not changing governance, from its conception it was in house. It has been managed in house and continues to be managed in house. In 2016 we brought forward a recommendation which reflected the desire of the council to look at trust model.

“Overall the business plan is the same, the management of the project will continue to be successfully managed whilst we consider additional options bringing in a local board to support the council.”

Yesterday’s meeting also saw the announcement of the name of the new hub, which will now be known as Tŷ Pawb. The name was voted for by the public and after an X Factor style deadlock moment, the name was unveiled by the Simon Cowell-esque Cllr Hugh Jones.

 

 

 

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