Northumberland County Council has taken over the management of a Blyth community centre which was facing ‘imminent bankruptcy’ amid allegations of money going missing.
In December, it emerged that there were serious concerns about what has happened at the Briardale Community Centre, which had been left with a ‘severe cash-flow crisis in the immediate term’ amid reports of staff not being paid. Police said that they were investigating allegations of theft at the centre.
At last week’s (Wednesday, January 9) full meeting of the county council, Coun Georgina Hill asked the council leader to confirm that the authority ‘is doing everything in its power to help the users of the centre following the recent, damning news about management problems’.
Coun Peter Jackson said: “It’s a very grave situation and I have been flabbergasted and shocked to hear some of the stories that we’ve got coming out of the Briardale Centre.”
He explained that the council was notified in November of ‘severe financial difficulties’ at the charity running the centre, with salaries not having been paid for several months, which sparked ‘a thorough assessment by council officers’.
“The county council has made the trustees formally aware of the serious governance concerns in a letter and has made a repayable loan to the charity to pay the overdue salaries,” Coun Jackson continued.
“It is an important community facility, serving some of the most vulnerable people in that community and this administration is determined not to let it fail due to the mismanagement of others.”
A referral has been made to the Charities Commission, while the local authority has liaised with Blyth CVA (Community and Voluntary Action) and the town council to provide as much support as possible to the Briardale.
The trustees asked the county council to take over temporary management as they viewed the continued operation as ‘unviable’ and a formal handover took place on Wednesday, January 2, the meeting heard.
Coun Jackson said: “It is important to note that the trustees remain fully responsible for the operation of the charity and its liabilities.
“The temporary support provided by the council in no way absolves the trustees of this responsibility.
“Our support has been provided to protect vital community services for some of our most vulnerable residents.”
Coun Hill asked if there had been negligence and, if so, would there be any accountability?
Coun Jackson responded: “There are matters of serious investigation to undertake, both for us and other organisations.
“For example, why on earth has it taken a matter of just nine or 10 months for a community centre that was running on a perfectly reasonable basis to come to a situation of utter collapse?”
“Where were the trustees in all this?” he added, saying they should ‘recognise their failings and resign, with immediate effect actually’.
A Northumbria Police spokeswoman confirmed this week that inquiries are ongoing in relation to its investigation of ‘an alleged theft of money at Briardale Community Centre, Blyth’.