Brentwood Council pledges to learn from £350,000 spent on ‘managed decline’ of leisure centre

Almost £350,000 was spent on a “managed decline” of the Brentwood Centre as the borough council pledged to learn from mistakes.

The centre in Pilgrims Hatch closed in October 2020 – threatening almost 140 jobs – after a deal to keep solvent its operator the Brentwood Leisure Trust was rejected by Brentwood Borough Council when the trust realised it could not meet its payroll obligations for that month.

It came after a request by the trust for further funding from the council – which already owed £343,000 – was rejected. This debt has been written off in the end of year 2020/21 accounts.

After taking back The Brentwood Centre, the borough council had to endure essential compliance costs on the property in order to bring it back to an acceptable standard, as well as staff at the centre and manage general operational running costs.

The council appointed Everyone Active to manage the Brentwood Centre in October 2021.

Councillor Gareth Barrett (Lab, Brentwood South) said at audit and scrutiny on November 15: “It is not an example of anyone behaving badly at one point or inappropriately, but it is the collective missing of moments and gaps and things not being at the quality of where they should have been.

“The ethos was good but because of that they let the things in front of them that were not good be acceptable.

“The Brentwood Centre is okay now but it is not as good as it could have been and lots of public money went into something for managed decline and at the end of it we have had to go back in and find new partners and new opportunities and do it right.”

The finances of the centre has been a significant challenge especially due to COVID – a grant of £117,000 was received from the national leisure recovery fund which was used to offset the running of the centre, as well as income losses due to lockdown and restrictions.

Following the Brentwood Leisure Trust going into liquidation a £343,000 debt to the council was written off in the 2020/21 year end accounts.

The council has now moved recommendations that “the council should continue with the positive progress made in making sure that record keeping, and governance of partnership/contractual arrangements are robust and transparent and regular reports are made to the appropriate committee.”

Cllr Barrett added: “It is quite clear the recommendations are the right ones after the programme of scrutiny and the best we can do in the circumstance.

“But while we are putting new processes in to mitigate risk going forward there is a long list of mistakes that have been made collectively by people across the council, including members, where actually arrangements were not in the right place, where decisions were not made in the best fashion.

“There were meetings on the Brentwood Leisure Trust that we voted for funding given the information we had in front of us we could have said it was the right decision but the problem was the right information was not in front of us or was not necessarily available to officers or to the trust on occasion.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter