Contradictions in Suffolk County Council’s reasons for rejecting Haverhill Town Council’s bid to run the Burton Centre

Burton Centre Haverhill
Burton Centre Haverhill

The truth behind why Suffolk County Council rejected Haverhill Town Council’s bid to run the Burton Centre is under scrutiny.

The truth behind why Suffolk County Council rejected Haverhill Town Council’s bid to run the Burton Centre is under scrutiny.

Burton Centre Haverhill

Burton Centre Haverhill

The town council had wanted to turn the centre into a community hub, offering youth facilities – identified as a key need for Haverhill – but the county council is instead backing St Nicholas Hospice Care’s plan to turn the centre into its community hub, offering caring and therapy to people in the town.

When asked why the town council’s bid was rejected, the county council said the town council had fallen behind the hospice based on long term financial sustainability and local support.

When asked how a charity that is reliant on fund raising and grants could be seen to have greater financial security than a council that could raise the precept to cover the cost, the county council said that sustainability meant not being reliant on the public purse as this could be perceived as passing public expenditure from one public authority to another.

However, the hospice bid is dependant on the charity securing £500,000 of funding from the Department of Health – making such a statement a contradiction.

Also, the stance on not wanting the Burton Centre to be publicly funded was not made clear prior to preparing the bids.

Had it been, the town council could have saved time – and taxpayers’ money – and not bothered to bid for it.

The county council also said the St Nicholas bid demonstrated more local support than the town council’s bid.

This is despite the fact that the town council is composed of 16 members elected by the public to represent them.

Furthermore, providing more activities for the youth of Haverhill has been identified as a key concern for the town.

A county council spokeswoman chose not to comment on the authority’s reasons for rejecting the town council bid.

The issue is due to be discussed at next Tuesday’s (November 27) town council meeting at Haverhill Arts Centre, starting at 7pm.

Town clerk Will Austin said: “We are of course very pleased that St Nicholas want to bring some much needed services to Haverhill, and look forward to them establishing a presence here.

“Of course this decision means that our own bid to run the Centre for the benefit of the whole community of Haverhill was rejected, and the Town Council is very disappointed about this.

“Our bid centred on the provision of open access youth facilities, a ‘hub’ for youth activity, and the retention of the Centre for use by community groups from right across the town.

“The youth focus would we think have given us a way of starting to address the number of NEETs, young people not in employment, education or training, and concerns about anti-social behaviour amongst young people.

“These were highlighted over the summer by ONE Haverhill’s community budget consultation work – the public told us quite clearly that more support for training and employment for young people was needed, and that young people needed somewhere to go and things to do in the evenings.

“The Burton Centre would – we think – have provided the perfect base from which to deliver solutions to these problems for Haverhill.

“Unfortunately the county council – from its offices in Ipswich – didn’t agree.

“I spoke recently to the county council officer managing the bids, and managed to get some feedback from her on the reasons for rejecting our community bid.

“They used four criteria in reaching a decision – 1. Long term financial sustainability, 2. Credibility and capacity to manage and develop the use of the building, 3. Local support, and 4. Clear vision.

“The officer highlighted two of these areas in particular where the town council felt we had fallen short:

“· Long-term financial sustainability.

“The county council considered that St Nicholas Hospice Care had demonstrated greater long-term financial sustainability in its bid.

“I asked how this could be the case, when as a local council we have precept-raising powers that give us a statutory ability to raise funding, whereas a charity is reliant on fund raising and grant aid.

“The officer advised that the county council considered that sustainability in this context meant not being reliant on the public purse, partly because this might be perceived as the county passing public expenditure from one public body to another.

“· Local support.

“The St Nicholas bid had demonstrated specific support for its initiative.

“This included feedback from local county councillors.

“The three Haverhill councillors were asked for their views, and two responded.

“Cllr Marks had indicated that he was supportive of both bids, and Cllr Gower had expressed her support for the health option.

“Of course, the statement about public funding is confusing and disappointing as there was no indication in advance that this was of concern to the county council.

“The town council spent a lot of time developing its bid, and had we known that we were to be in effect excluded on the grounds that we use public money, we needn’t have bothered bidding.

“We assume that the competing bid isn’t similarly reliant on public money.

“As for local support, we had many expressions of support from community groups looking to use the centre, and of course the town council is made up of elected councillors, whose job is to speak on behalf of the local community.

“It is difficult to see how our bid could show much more local support.

“We were of course also disappointed that we didn’t get 100 per cent support from our local county Councillors, especially as we sought to use the bid to support ONE Haverhill’s community budget aspirations.”

For all the latest news see today’s (Thursday, November 22) Echo.