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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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War of words over new Carlisle art centre running costs

A fresh war of words has erupted over the costs involved in running Carlisle’s new Arts Centre in the former Rickergate fire station.

Gareth Ellis photo
Gareth Ellis

Belah councillor Gareth Ellis, who is deputy leader of the Conservative group on the city council, claims the true cost of running the £1 million centre is being hidden.

He has dismissed an official council estimate that its annual staff costs for the new centre will be as low as £12,000, saying the true figure will be more than double that, and possibly as high as £80,000.

But Labour’s deputy leader on the authority, Elsie Martlew, poured scorn on the claim, saying that council bosses themselves had explained that running the centre will not be a full-time job for any officer.

Mr Ellis said: “When you go through this business plan it seems obvious that the cost of running this centre just can’t be £12,000 a year.

“In reality, it will be a far higher cost.”

The councillor said managing the centre would represent a full-time job for one senior officer, and occupy at least half a week for another, as well needing continuing support from other council staff.

He believes the estimated annual running cost of £159,000 did not reflect the likely costs of staffing.

The council’s three-year business plan for the centre, depending on the support of existing council staff, could put the project at risk if the authority is forced in two or three years to cut costs, said the councillor.

Mr Ellis said: “I’d say it would cost between £50,000 and £80,000 on top of the £159,000 to run the arts centre but in four or five years time there may be different people running the council who will have to pick up this mess.

He added: “If they structure it in this way it could be a calamity.”

Reacting to the comments, Mrs Martlew said: “Gareth Ellis has an absolute nerve commenting on the arts centre in this way.

“I’d like to remind people, and him in particular, that for 13 years we had a do-nothing council.

“They wasted millions of pounds on consultants reports, some of them about a proposed arts centre, and at the time we took over in 2012, not a single brick had been laid.

“We, however, have hit the ground running.

“The old fire station was a project waiting to happen, and it was one of our main election pledges, so by pressing ahead we are simply keeping the promise we made to the electorate.”

Mrs Martlew said the arts centre had already attracted strong praise in the short time it has been used.

She pointed out that running the facility would represent only a part of the work of existing staff, and not be any officer’s full-time job – a point that has been confirmed by council officials.

A council spokesman confirmed that more precise costings for the running of the arts centre would be provided in response to a request made at this week’s scrutiny and overview panel meeting, which Mr Ellis attended.

The project aims to give local promoters and artists a facility they can use, which may also generate revenue, while supporting less commercially viable art forms.

The city council’s business plan for the old fire station centre says it will fill a long-standing “gap” in Carlisle’s arts landscape.

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