Under-fire Keighley council shuts up ‘illegal’ shop, cafe and bar

Keighley civic centre
Keighley civic centre
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COUNCILLORS have voted to close a shop, cafe and bar at a flagship civic centre almost five months after auditors questioned the legality of such trading.

Members of Keighley Town Council agreed to halt trading in the council-run cafe, bar and museum shop after council officers said they had received no clear guidance on whether the authority had a right to trade.

A council meeting heard that the closures could be temporary.

No-one was available from the council to explain if future events bookings would be affected.

The civic centre’s police and forensic science museum will remain open but councillors believe that may also close if a motion is put before a meeting next month.

Some councillors are angry that it has taken almost five months to decide to cease trading.

In October external auditors identified a catalogue of weaknesses and potentially unlawful practices at the council and questioned the legality of council-run trading.

Their report criticised the council for an inadequate business case for the civic centre and for failing to address its financial viability.

Last month the council’s finance officer, Safia Kauser, warned that the council was in danger of running out of money due to overspending on the running of the civic centre.

She said the bar/catering was losing money and the overall losses were approaching £200,000 for the year.

Miss Kauser warned that governance failings may lead to it failing its external audit for 2015.

Yesterday councillors said that their decision to stop trading followed advice that the council may fail to comply with its annual governance statement if trading continued.

Councillor Amjid Ahmed said councillors had previously been warned that the council did not have powers to trade but some had chosen to ignore that advice.

In January, councillors were presented with plans to close the cafe, shop and bar but the motion, put forward by Councillors Ahmed and deputy mayor Javaid Akhtar, was defeated by 13 votes to 10.

Councillor Ahmed said he expected a vote to close the museum to be passed next month.

“The museum is going to have to close - there are no powers to run it.”

He said ceasing trading was an opportunity to ask residents what facilities should be provided.

He said the closures might be temporary, adding: “We need to know what powers (to trade) we have.”

Councillor Ron Beale said efforts were being made to “clear up the mess” that the council had got itself into.

Ceasing trading was the right thing to do for the time being, he added.

If trading resumed, it would have to be done through a company to ensure taxpayers’ money was not wasted, he said.

Keighley deputy mayor Javaid Akhtar said he was disappointed it had taken several months for the council to accept it did not have the legal framework to carry on trading.

“The council should have halted the trading when the audit report was issued but the senior councillors serving on the civic centre management committee amongst others did not wish to accept that the council did not have the necessary powers to trade.

“The decision to cease trading will not affect any hall or meeting room hire bookings. The council resolved last week to formulate a business strategy and further develop the business aims for the civic centre.

“This in my opinion is a positive stepping stone for the new council to help build the foundation that is needed for the civic centre and it is now time to consult with the Keighley parishoners who are the key stakeholders of the public funded centre.

“The civic centre itself is costing over £200,000 per year to run and the decision to temporarily cease trading in the short term has helped the council save thousands of pounds that could further have added to the deficit.

“I would welcome public consultation to determine the future of the civic centre.”