£5,000 Ludlow Visitor Information Centre grant could have to be paid back to council

A charity could be forced to hand back a £5,000 town council grant after councillors said the money was not spent on what it was intended for.

Ludlow Assembly Rooms may have to pay a grant back to the town council
Ludlow Assembly Rooms may have to pay a grant back to the town council

The council awarded the funds to Ludlow Assembly Rooms under Ludlow Town Council’s ‘core grants’ scheme in the 2019/20 financial year, to support the town’s Visitor Information Centre (VIC).

But councillors have now said they want a detailed explanation as to how the money was spent, and could ask for it to be returned if they are not happy with the response.

It comes after members raised concerns at a previous meeting that the VIC had been temporarily moved to the town library while the Assembly Rooms was closed, without the charity seeking permission from the council for the money to be spent differently.

At a meeting this week, deputy mayor Robin Pote said: “This particular grant arrived for the VIC at a time when the Assembly Rooms were in the process of being effectively re-built, when the VIC was moved from one place to another due to the alterations that were taking place.

“Then at some point in the process the pandemic arrived and further complicated the issue.

“We do request that people give feedback on how money is spent, but my feelings are that this has been a very difficult time for the Assembly Rooms and it may well be quite difficult to itemise, quite precisely, the funds.

“I don’t think we would be in a position to allow the situation to arise again.”

He added that he did not think there was a “deliberate attempt” by the charity to mislead the council.

Town clerk Gina Wilding told members that the charity had responded to a previous request for information on how the grant money was spent but was not able to provide a detailed explanation.

Councillor Mark Clarke said he was fed up of hearing Covid used as an excuse for “poor accounting practices”.

He added: “I can’t see why we need a VIC in the modern world, everything is done through the internet.

“Anyone who turns up in Ludlow is more than likely knowing exactly what they are going to do, where they are going to stay, where they are going to eat and where they are going to drink.

“So I think it’s a waste of money full stop.”

Amend

Councillor Glenn Ginger suggested writing to the Assembly Rooms again to request a detailed breakdown of how the grant for the VIC was spent, including invoices. Seven members voted for the proposal while six abstained.

At the same meeting, councillors agreed to amend the core grant application documents.

Mayor Tim Gill said the changes were “in order to ensure that we get a full and timely response from all those people who receive a grant, with the proviso that if we don’t get it then a grant will not be awarded should they apply again”.

Councillor Ginger said: “The language needs to be very, very strong so that everybody knows that when they accept a core grant it’s for a single reason, it must be spent on that single reason, there must be information provided to council of it being spent on that reason.

“Should it not be able to be spent on that reason then they have got to come back to council immediately for council to decide whether they are going to pursue with the grant or not.”

Helen Hughes, CEO of the Assembly Rooms, said the VIC had previously applied for, and been awarded, core grants from the town council and it had never been queried before.

She said: “We applied for a core grant, as we have always done, and as far as I am concerned it goes towards the running costs of photocopying, postage, management time, etc.”

She said the charity would have to pay the money back if the town council continued to request the information which she has already explained it could not provide. There are also concerns that the same situation might arise in relation to another £5,000 grant awarded to the VIC for the 20/21 financial year, which has just ended.

Ms Hughes said she was “disappointed” in the comments made about the VIC because “Ludlow survives on tourism”.

She also rejected the suggestion of “poor accounting,” highlighting the fact that the charity’s accounts have to satisfy the Charity Commission and Companies House every year.

A separate grant of £10,000 awarded directly to the Assembly Rooms in 19/20 is not being queried.

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