Union fears town council job cuts could close Leigh Community Centre

A union fears possible job cuts at Leigh Town Council could put the future of a community centre at risk after a £1million deficit was revealed.

For years it has been claimed that Leigh Community Centre has “paid for itself”, but the new Tory administration has stated this is “far from the truth” and cuts may be needed to make it cost neutral.

Following an investigation, which the council claims has been “hindered by the reluctance of administrative staff to co-operate”, the council claims the community centre has a shortfall of £63,000 for the year and a total of “£1million over the last five years”.

The town council and leader Bernard Arscott have claimed “elementary accounting errors” have led to a “overstatement of profits”.

However, Claire Wormald, Southend Unison branch secretary, said: “Our members want to reassure members of the public who may have seen comments that Leigh Town Council does not face “going bankrupt” and indeed has always lived within its means. In fact, the council is consistently in surplus every year.

“However, we do believe that sadly the Tory council’s taste for looking tough on staff cuts endangers the continuing existence of Leigh Community Centre.

“It’s a matter of public record that the difference between the cost of running the centre and the direct income it brings in has always been met from the council tax. Unless councillor Arscott and his colleagues haven’t been reading the council’s accounts and minutes, we don’t understand why he says he didn’t know this.”

Ms Wormald said the community centre income had been hit hard by covid and lockdown.

She added: “Our view is that sadly, if you take these jobs away from the community centre, councillors will be artificially making it look uneconomic. Worse, they will be doing so knowing that’s the likely result. If they want the centre shut, they’re going the right way about it.”

A statement issued by the council said: “After much examination of internal council documents dating back to 2019, it has become clear that the operation of the community centre over the past five years has resulted in an accumulated deficit of the order of £1 million.

“However, it is unequivocally the present council’s intention to continue operating the community centre to the benefit of Leigh citizens and their friends.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter