Questions raised over £450K council spend on bar in Southend shopping centre

A Labour councillor investigating a £450,000 incentive given to a bar which opened in a Southend shopping centre has moved to defend the decision despite branding the amount “obscene”.

Matt Dent, Labour councillor for Kursaal ward, claimed that his investigation into the cash given to Boom Battle Bar before it opened at the Victoria Shopping Centre was Southend Council “fulfilling its duty as a landlord”.

Asked if £450,000 was an unusually large sum of money to give a business, Cllr Dent agreed that it was.

Boom Battle Bar opened in October in the former Tangs Buffet restaurant unit.

Taking to social media, Cllr Dent said the money was “obscene” but would have been spent bringing the large unit to a “basic standard” by the council anyway.

He said: “While raising more questions I’m a little reassured for the time being that it wasn’t simply a case of £450,000 just being given to a business. It wasn’t just handed to them as a direct incentive, it was for a specific purpose to be fulfilled by the council as a landlord.”

Daniel Nelson, councillor responsible for economic growth and investment disagreed. He said: “Councillor Dent is incorrect. There was a capital amount given to Boom Battle Bar for them to refit their unit. That was part of a package which included some standardised rent saving which is very standard in the industry.”

A council spokesperson said: “It is important to stress that negotiations on capital, rent and service charge incentives are commonplace and necessary in commercial property transactions to secure lettings and the associated long-term benefits they can bring.

“This is the largest unit in the centre and as parts of it had been unoccupied for 15 years it required substantial reconstruction to make it suitable for the required specification. “Typically, a landlord is responsible for these works before the tenant takes over.”

Ron Woodley, Residents First councillor for Thorpe Ward, said councillors needed more clarity on how money was being spent. He said: “Sometimes landlords do things to encourage businesses to move into their premises. The problem we have here is there was no real accountability.

“It’s lost in the general fund.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter