Takeover of Worthing’s theatres and museum could have ‘serious defects’

Jim Deen SUS-180805-104334001
Jim Deen SUS-180805-104334001

Opposition councillors have expressed ‘very serious concerns’ about the transfer of Worthing’s cultural services to an in-house trust.

At a meeting of Adur and Worthing councils’ joint strategic committee meeting last Tuesday (July 9), a report explained how the council’s theatres team set up a company, Chalk and Clay, to bid in an open procedure.

Despite no other bids being received, Chalk and Clay’s entry was deemed to be unsuitable as a new company with no track record. In response, the council abandoned the open procedure and awarded the contract directly to an as-yet unidentified in-house trust.

The council also approved an extra £100,000 in set-up costs, on top of the £145,000 already agreed, which council leader Dan Humphreys said would put the cultural services on a ‘secure footing’.

Labour councillor Jim Deen questioned why extra money was needed and said the party would ‘call-in’ the decision.

“We have very serious concerns about the financial and management implications of the deal,” he said.

“Over the next four years it will cost council tax payers £500,000 more than keeping the services in-house and it’s not clear what, if anything, we’re getting for the that extra money.”

Mr Deen said Labour wanted to see the management of cultural services kept in-house, but that a report commissioned by employee union Unison had found ‘serious defects’ in the procurement exercise.

Unison said awarding the contract directly meant it was not ‘transparent or open to scrutiny’ and left the council open to a complaint to the EU and judicial review.

It said councillors would be asked to approve a contract without knowing who it was being awarded to, nor what the terms were, creating a ‘democratic deficit’.