Arts venue board scotch rumour that chief is on ‘gardening leave’

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RUMOURS that the boss of an under-fire arts centre had been “put on gardening leave” amid dissatisfaction with performance have been refuted by members of the trust in charge of the venue.

The Civic, in Barnsley, opened in 2009 after extensive renovations, but faced criticism over rocketing restoration costs and an inability to rent out retail units included in its design. Council taxpayers footed much of the bill, which rose from £11m to £18m, to revamp what was the town’s former Civic Hall theatre, and the local authority continues to pump cash into the costs of the building.

Late last month it was reported that lawyers had been brought into to negotiate with Fergus Justice-Mills, who had been in charge of the venue since before it opened, over a “severance deal”. But Barnsley Civic Enterprise, the trust in charge of the Civic’s affairs, yesterday said Mr Justice-Mills had stepped down for “personal reasons” and thanked him for his work at the centre.

The trust’s chairman, Tracy Lally, said: “In directly countering what we previously saw as inaccurate and misleading reports, the board of trustees would like to thank Fergus for the significant contributions he has made.

“He has held a key role since launching the organisation, bringing some exciting and innovative performances and exhibitions to the Civic, which has welcomed over 100,000 visitors. It goes without saying that we wish him every success in the future.”

Mr Justice-Mills added: “I am very proud of my achievements at the Civic, having secured more than £683,000 in grant funding. I am looking forward to exploring new opportunities and wish the Civic every success in the coming years.”

The board of trustees said discussions were now taking place on the “best way forward” for the venue.