‘No transparency’ in awarding of Laindon Community Centre lease says review

An independent review has found there was “no transparency” in Basildon Council’s decision to award a 25-lease on a community centre to a newly-formed charity.

Members of a campaign group which ran an anti-Labour campaign were handed the keys to Laindon Community Centre after the May 2021 local elections, during which the Conservatives gained control of the council.

Senior councillors noted the review at a cabinet meeting on January 19 and said they hoped it would allow a line to be drawn under the issue.

A section of the review, by Melvin Kenyon of Kenyon Brabrook Limited, read: “There appears to have been no transparency in the decision to award the lease of the newly-refurbished centre to the newly-created charity. No effort appears to have been made to establish whether there were other organisations who might have been interested in running the community centre.”

A later section read: “It is nevertheless difficult to conclude anything other than that the new administration and the ‘Save the Laindon Community Centre’ activists were in each other’s debt and that the new arrangements helped settle those debts.”

The former trustees of the centre relinquished their lease in October 2020. It was refurbished and then reopened in December 2021.

In a forward to the review, council leader Andrew Baggott (Con, Burstead) said between October 2021 and the May elections there was a “significant breakdown” of trust between the council and those associated with the Laindon Community Centre.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting on January 19, he said the investigation had been thorough and that the council would always strive to be better.

He said: “I think that there are learnings from that from a council point of view, I think there are learnings from that right the way across the board.”

Labour leader Maryam Yaqub (St Martin’s) said at the meeting: “The 25-year lease to an £8.8million building, with £2.2 million recent taxpayer investment, was handed to them because the administration was in their debt.”

She said she thought the allegations amounted to “corruption” and warranted a police investigation.

Cllr Baggott said Cllr Yaqub was welcome to demand an investigation, which he would welcome. Mr Kenyon also said in the review he did not share the view there had been corruption.

Brian Clark, of the Laindon Community Centre, also appeared at the meeting and said: “What we are in a position to do is take the centre forward with the right management it needs, with the right oversight it needs from council officers, which we are getting.”

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter