Deal could secure Riverside Centre's future

By Emily Pearce

Friday, June 6, 2014

 

Deal could secure Riverside Centre's future

The Riverside Centre, which could be gifted to a community trust by the Isle of Wight Council. Picture by Peter Boam.

THE Riverside Centre looks set to be gifted to a community trust, hopefully securing its future and ending a protracted and bitter row over the lease, but at significant cost to the cash-strapped Isle of Wight Council.

Executive members will meet on Tuesday to discuss plans for a community asset transfer of the building to a trust body comprising current leaseholder the Riverside Centre Ltd — the charity that runs the centre — and community groups.

If the plans are approved, the building would be leased for 125 years at a peppercorn rent.

It is hoped the proposal will secure the future of the centre as an information and advice hub, providing support to disabled people, those with long-term health conditions and their carers.

Scrutiny members, who met yesterday (Thursday), backed the plans. However, some questioned whether the council, which needs to cut its budget by £28m over the next three years, could afford to lease a building that could fetch £850,000 on the open market.

Cllr Stuart Hutchinson said: "We are effectively giving it away for free. It's a valuable asset in the middle of Newport. If a developer came along who wanted redevelop the area, we wouldn't have that opportunity."

But Cllr Jon Gilbey, the executive member overseeing the plans, urged them to consider the broader picture. He said the Riverside Centre was a vital facility for disabled people, and the long lease would provide stability.

Cllr Richard Priest, who is Riverside Centre manager, left the meeting during the discussion and has not taken part in other Isle of Wight Council discussions about the transfer.

*Committee chairman Cllr Geoff Lumley, who is a trustee of the Riverside Centre, also left the meeting during the discussion.

For more on this story, please see the Isle of Wight County Press today, Friday, June 6.

Reporter: emilyp@iwcpmail.co.uk

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Displaying the last 10 of 28 comments - Show All Comments

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by roger mazillius

10th June 2014, at 12:48:07

Thanks Karen. First class! My recollection of many IW voluntary bodies providing services for the physically and mentally disadvantaged was that they were pretty clued up about such trading arrangements although most did not have the premises for such additional revenue.
However that is a good heads up perhaps for newer charities or a reminder to established ones.
Despite everything, the Riverside must improve their performance now they look like having all these facilities rent free. I hope that will not encourage Cllr Priest to seek a wage rise!

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by Karen Newton

10th June 2014, at 10:27:47

Thanks for clarifying Roger and you've raised an interesting point re charities vs social enterprise. Charities can provide primary purpose trading without setting up a trading arm, though numerous across the country and locally have set up trading arms to provide commercial services, not necessarily linked to their charitable aims, but to enable their charitable aims to continue. Any board of trustees can review their legal structure and business model and opt for one that permits trading, and I would advise them to speak to the RCC or any social enterprise as a first step. Reinvesting surplus back into the community is a great way to ensure ongoing sustainability, especially when grants and tender work currently come with such high expectations of output, trading activity permits the charity to have more control over finances, what to do and not do, etc. There are many guides also available via google should anyone reading this want to know more.

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by roger mazillius

10th June 2014, at 09:00:40

Karen. I understand your enthusiasm and I would agree that many small voluntary organisations rely on grants from the Council to help deliver their services and long may that continue. They often operate from quite small premises which are used solely for their (usually) charitable purposes.
Indeed, that was the original concept for The Riverside, apart from operating from larger premises.
What has happened over the years however has been the commercalisation of the building including income from lettings as well as regular commercial events not connected to the core services being delivered.
All of that led to the Trustees agreeing to revised terms to reflect this commercial use, which is not available to most others in the sector and to give the local taxpayers a fair contribution for their financial support. All of that is separate from the "social" services provided at the Centre for which there are large separate publicly funded grants.

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by Karen Newton

9th June 2014, at 23:02:45

Peter, I would side with your frustration if I didn't know that the Riverside is not alone in being offered a peppercorn rent - I could name at least 4 others but do not wish to jeopardize their future. The reason peppercorn rents are offered is because there is value to the public purse. So little is now provided via grants and such that our charities are at risk of closing, and only then will the council realise the true cost of those providing information and advice, day services, social activities etc. This is more of a story only because of the fight the council have had for years trying to get this asset 'back' and failing, and this is where I believe a number of issues regarding mismanagement and such have stemmed from. Glad the council have finally stepped back - they need our voluntary sector to remain vibrant, as the council itself seems to have little capacity for innovation or delivery of personalised services. Rant over, thanks for reading!

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by roger mazillius

9th June 2014, at 18:30:27

Well said PT. I could not have put it better myself. It seems to me that the present Conservative Group should really make a formal complaint to the District Auditor considering the number of very personal interests involved by so-called independent Cllrs which in the circumstances of this matter is quite disgraceful!
I can just about imagine the outcry if this had been pushed through by a Conservative administration with such personal interests. Absolutely disgraceful and bordering in my opinion, a fraud on the local taxpayer.

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by Peter Truman

9th June 2014, at 14:45:20

So, Riverside Centre Ltd want to secure the use of the building on much more favourable terms – i.e. paying no rent at all. The Tories wouldn’t support this.

However the independents won, including new Shanklin cllrs Richard Priest and Jon Gilbey, who are close friends and ran on a joint ticket. Both are subsequently appointed to the Executive.

Executive has to make a decision on the Riverside's future, with a recommendation to waive £54,000 rent. Priest can’t take part in this decision as he is Manager, and would be a financial beneficiary of the decision to waive the rent (i.e. by making the centre more viable and his job secure).

Thankfully Priest has his old mate Gilbey to see the decision through, thereby ensuring that his day job is secured. Nice work. Everyone’s a winner. Except the taxpayer which is denied £54,000 into the revenue budget at a time when there is an ongoing budget deficit.

Should Gilbey even be part of this decision, let alone leading it?

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by roger mazillius

9th June 2014, at 08:01:24

Steve, I will repeat part of my reply to Karen. Ask the Trustees why they agreed to terms designed to put the Centre on an even financial keel whilst recognising the need to protect the public purse and to bring at least some financial discipline to the organisation.
For too long it had been run to some extent at least in too slipshod a financial manner leading to a conflict between not just the Council and the Centre, but between the Trustees and the Centre Management.
Dealing with vulnerable people and large sums of public money requires a vital degree of management skill. It probably started to go downhill when the marvellous Victoria Rockley (book-keeper supreme) left.
Geoff Lumley knows the management failings that led the Trustees to consider Richard Priest's position and now those failings are being swept under the financial blanket of this ridiculously one-sided deal.
Bad governance and an even worse "vested interests" deal. Auditors please!

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by Steve Smith

8th June 2014, at 23:08:35

Sorry Roger but even if we take your figures of 20-30% of the costs as true. Did your Council return £39,000 of the annual rent you charged (£54k) as morally you would only be entitled to 20-30% of the rent!
No, as Karen stated, this was never supposed to be an IWC asset.

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by roger mazillius

8th June 2014, at 22:03:05

Thanks Den and Steve. Just back from a lovely family day out! Sorry but there appears to be some confusion about grants. Those I referred to should not be confused with any capital payment made to finish the actual building of the Centre. I agree entirely that operating grants or grants to enable certain specific services to be delivered would not normally be repayable and it was not those payments I was referring to.
Karen, thanks for your comments. I can say that perhaps some of your questions should be asked of the Trustees who willingly and knowingly entered into contractual agreements with the Council acknowledging the Council's rights over the building and the corresponding obligations on the part of themselves and the Centre management.
Wider commercial use of the Centre, yes we agreed that was necessary and would assist with the running costs but taxpayers have the right to expect more than helping weak management out of the public purse!

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by Den Young

8th June 2014, at 15:32:57

Roger, these grants paid for over the years, were they grants as you state, or direct money from the council?

Any views or opinions presented in the comments above are solely those of the author and do not represent those of the Isle of Wight County Press.

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