Leigh Town Council jobs at risk over deficit

A trade union has branded threats to jobs at Leigh Community Centre following the discovery of a £115,000 deficit as “a declaration of war on staff”.

The community centre in Elm Road run by Leigh Town Council was thought to be self-sufficient thanks to a café and the hiring out of rooms for community events.

However, a review of the centre’s accounts by the administration has discovered that it has run up deficits totalling £1.6million since the 2016/17 financial year.

The town council, which has been mired in controversy since May, when the previously non-political council was taken over by a Conservative majority, held an emergency staffing committee meeting on Friday.

Bernard Arscott, chairman of the council, said: “For the last few years we were told the community centre, which the town council is a part of, breaks even and pays for itself.

“The deficit for the year to December, was £115,000, which is obviously not a good situation. The collective deficit since 2016/17 is £1.6million That’s been the shortfall the town council has had to pump in to cover for a community centre that pays for itself.

“Clearly we can’t carry on like that. We are going to have to look at restructuring as a matter of urgency to try and bring this back under control.”

Asked if there could be job losses at the community centre which employs about 15 people, Mr Arscott added: “Nothing is off the table for consideration.” He added previous councillors had not been made aware of the deficits.

Last month a full town council meeting descended into chaos as police were called to deal with hecklers.

The town clerk, Helen Symmons, was suspended in August last year while an investigation into her work was carried out. She remains suspended on full pay.

Mr Arscott said the matter would be “concluded in the very near future”.

Claire Wormald, Unison Southend branch secretary said: “Events in Leigh have moved from farce to tragedy.

“Councillors haven’t discussed these cuts with staff or their union, so we don’t know the details of what’s being proposed or why they want to throw dedicated staff on the dole.

“What we do know is that cuts are sure to damage cherished local services, particularly the community centre. If the Tories are looking to save some cash, they could reinstate the respected town clerk and stop blowing money on locum staff.

“For some reason, Bernard Arscott seems to have declared war on the council workforce. Ultimately its residents that will pay the price.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter