Friday, 21 April 2017

'Is Trike's grant of up to £1m fair?' asks ex-councillor

It looks as if a proposal by Brent Council to pay the Tricycle Theatre a grant of up to £1m for a renovation project is going to prove controversial.  The grant would replace any ongoing funding that was due from April 1st 2018.

A report LINK  to be presented to Cabinet makes on April 24th makes the case:
The Tricycle Theatre has recently embarked on a major renovation project due for completion in February 2018. Once completed the work will significantly increase capacity and allow the theatre to extend the range of activities that they run. As well as enhancing an iconic cultural venue it will also give a much needed major boost to the economic regeneration of one of the borough’s priority high streets. The Tricycle has secured £5.6m of the £6.6m required to complete the renovation. 


In recognition of the Tricycle Theatre’s economic, social and cultural benefits to Brent this report recommends that Brent Council support the theatre with a grant of up to £1m to enable its ongoing capital renovation project to be completed in its entirety. The Tricycle’s success has meant that while its productions have improved, the venue has not kept pace and no longer meets the needs of the community, producers or performers. This renovation work addresses problems related to insufficient seating capacity, accessibility and helps to mitigate social exclusion. 

Alongside the renovation work within the Tricycle Theatre, Brent Council is considering developing a project to commission improvement works to be carried out on the Kilburn High Road pavement around the theatre. If funding is approved, the improvements will include levelling the footpath and adding street furniture to encourage footfall and dwell time in the area. This broader regeneration project can be seen as complimentary to the ongoing renovation work within the theatre. 

The council is being asked for a grant of up to £1m because the Tricycle Theatre has aspirations of achieving some of the shortfall from elsewhere including through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The theatre has passed HLF’s Stage 1 but in order for it to progress and receive HLF funding (expected to be circa £450k) it needs to be recognised as a cultural heritage asset on Brent’s ‘Local List’ of Heritage Assets. The building is deemed to meet the criteria for the List and this report recommends its inclusion. 


Recommendation(s) 

To approve a grant to the Tricycle Theatre of up to £1m representing the difference between the existing and potential HLF funding sources secured for the renovation of the theatre and the amount required to complete the renovation.  

To approve the grant detailed above on the basis that it is a one off grant that replaces any ongoing grant due to be awarded to the Tricycle Theatre by Brent Council from 1 April 2018. 
To approve the appointment of the Tricycle Theatre on to the Local List as a cultural heritage asset thus enabling the theatre to progress with its application for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In a letter to Carolyn Downs, Brent CEO, former councillor Paul Lorber presents his misgivings:
Until a few years ago the Council had a Grants policy which provided support for various Cultural and Festivals activities run by our diverse community. This Grant programme was scrapped by a Labour Administration on the grounds that it was costly and unaffordable.

Since the scrapping of those Grants the Leadership of the Council has been lobbied to reinstate  part of the Grant by Community Groups operating in Brent - these requests have been denied.

It is surprising to find that a Grant of between £500,000 and £1 million is now being offered to the Tricycle Theatre without a proper and a fair Grant bidding process being followed.

The justification for this is very weak as clearly the Tricycle have once again overstretched themselves and bouncing the Council into meeting their shortfall. This is not the first time this has happened as previous projects were overspent and the Council called on to bail them out.

Many of the activities used to justify the grant do not require an expanded building and could just as easily be carried out in other premises - include all the surplus and available space at the Civic Centre.

The report states that 20,000 people from all over London visit the Tricycle each year. The Hindu Council in Brent would like part of the Grant for Navratri reinstated (it used to be £67,000 per year and even £500,000 paid to them equals to 8 years worth) as over a 9 day period of this Festival around 30,000 residents take part. Eid in Brent used to attract many thousands of residents too.

Irrespective of the above there is a fundamental principle of fairness and equality at stake here. It is simply not right to deny large sections of the Brent Community access to Grant funding and then award up to a £1 million to an organisation just because they pursued an over ambitious project for which they had not secured sufficient funds in advance.

If money is suddenly available then it should be distributed fairly through a properly organised Grant making process accessible to everyone equally.

In view of the above I call on you to defer the decision on this item on the 24th.
Carolyn Downs replied:
The report regarding the Tricycle Theatre is entirely lawful and has been placed on the agenda for cabinet to decide in line with all rules etc. Accordingly I will not seek to defer the item from Monday's meeting. 

If you disagree with its content it is far better that you seek to make your views known at the Cabinet meeting by requesting of the Chair that you be permitted to speak on the issue. The Leader, if alerted in writing in advance, usually allows members of the public to address the cabinet. Otherwise you could email Cabinet members along the lines that you have emailed me. 
Lorber responded with an FoI request:
Can you please treat this email as a FOI request and arrange for the following questions to be answered.
1. Who has carried the Equality assessment on respect of this Grant and what conclusion have their reached on the issue of a Grant being granted to one cultural organisation in Brent while Grants not being available or denied to other organisations.

2. When did the Tricycle Theatre request a Grant from the Council - was it before or after they became aware of the full cost of their project and shortfall in grant funding or has the Council been involved right from the outset?

3. What assessment did your officers carry out of the proposed works and whether they represent value for money and are affordable in view of the past record of the Tricycle in respect of large capital projects.

4. What is the published policy of Brent Council for considering Grants requests of this type and how is this policy publicised. 

5. Provide a list of all meetings between the Council (Councillors and Officers) where the Tricycle project was discussed and a request for a Grant made including a list of everyone who attended each meeting.
6. Which Council Budget is the Grant being paid from and which Council Tax fixing meeting agreed this Budget.

7. Please list all requests for a Grant made to Brent Council in the last 12 months and confirm how each request has been responded to.

Unfortunately I am not able to attend the Cabinet Meeting hence my questions in advance. As someone who was around when proposals were made to cut grants to a large numbers of Groups a few years ago I am concerned at the selective way that a substantial Grant us now being handed out without a proper Grant process which ensures equality of opportunity.

5 comments:

  1. Lorber has a point but local government shouldn't be funding religion.

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    1. I agree that the Council should not fund religion. But if you attended any of the events you would soon learn that these were Cultural Events bringing our diverse community together enabling people of different backgrounds to share knowledge of each other and their experiences.
      In any case there is the fundamental issue at stake here - if taxpayers money is currently available will it be distributed under a fair Grants System or simply handed to favoured organisations because they have close links with the Council and able to negotiate with Councillors in secret? PAUL LORBER

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  2. This sounds very much like another Brent Council done deal, all agreed behind closed doors well in advance of it being brought to the attention of the public. Let us hope that Quintain hasn't got a finger in the pie somewhere. I think the residents of Brent will be highly interested in seeing answers to Paul Lorber's questions. Brent has closed our libraries, the Stonebridge Adventure Playground and other key facilities due to lack of funding, so it seems strange that circa £1 million can suddenly be found to fund the Tricycle Theatre interests.

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    1. I agree.

      Where can Brent Council suddenly find a spare £1 million from, after telling us for years that things are so bad, because of reduced government funding, that we have to swallow cuts to vital local services?

      If there is that much spare money tucked away somewhere, why hasn't it been used to support youth services, or other community projects that would benefit a far wider range of Brent's residents?

      Philip.

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  3. This is political posturing especially in a time when the snap general election is on, and Lib Dems are expected to do well. Which will set them up nicely come next year's local elections in the Council. Lib Dems anti Brexit message should bring new supporters and voters to have some members in Brent Council, espeacially if as expected they triple their numbers or more in the elections on June 8th.

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