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Future of Aberfan Community Centre to be discussed by councillors

15 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Aberfan Community Centre.

Anthony Lewis – Local Democracy Reporter

The situation with Aberfan Community Centre is set to be discussed by Merthyr Tydfil councillors with them considering becoming trustees.

A report is going before full council on Wednesday, March 20, setting out the situation around the centre, the legal complexities around the charity, and the running of services from the centre after the end of the contract as well as the legal technicalities if councillors become trustees for the centre.

It sets out the matters which councillors need to consider before making a decision as to whether or not they wish to become trustees.

It comes after signs erected at the centre informing locals the centre was closing from April 1 which sparked a backlash in the community.

The council said it was a hoax and that it is working with Wellbeing Merthyr to ensure the site stays open after the contract to run leisure and cultural services in the county borough ends on March 31.

The council said it is confident that services at Aberfan Community Centre will continue beyond April 1, 2024.

Council leader Councillor Geraint Thomas said in response that the leisure provider chosen to operate Merthyr’s leisure service going forward is not private but a registered charity and not-for-profit organisation with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the industry.

The Aberfan Disaster Fund was established in 1967 following the disaster on October 21, 1966.

Charities

In 1987 land that was previously the site of houses at Moy Road, Pant Glas Road, Hartwell Villas, Briar House and the Bakery and Stables Pant Glas Road was conveyed to the Aberfan Disaster Fund Management Committee and it is this land that part of the centre sits on.

In 1988 the charity commission decided that the Aberfan Disaster Fund be
separated into two distinct charities which are The Memorial Charity (now known as The Aberfan Memorial Charity) and secondly The Centre.

The council as trustee was responsible for the administration and upkeep of the centre between 1988 and 2015 and on April 1, 2015 the Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust (Wellbeing Merthyr) was established to run the leisure and library services on behalf of the council.

On April 19, 2016, title deeds to the centre, the adjoining car park, the play area to the north of the Garden of Remembrance, and a small area of open grassland to the north-east of the Garden of Remembrance were transferred from the council as trustees of The Aberfan Disaster Fund to Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust.

The council has issued a termination notice in respect of the contract as it no longer required the Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust to manage the leisure provision from either Aberfan or Merthyr Tydfil.

The report said that the council still wants a leisure and library provision to be run from the centre.

But despite numerous requests by the council to the trustees from Aberfan, no response had been received.

The report also said that councillors have expressed a wish that trusteeship of the centre should revert to the council.

The council will seek charity commission advice as to whether this is an option that is open to the authority.

The centre and land would not be an asset of the council but it would be an asset that is held by the trustees for the benefit of the charity.

Survey

Before making any final decision about trusteeship a full “due diligence exercise” is being advised by officers.

It would include a condition survey of the building and accounts demonstrating the economic viability and any liabilities and any leases or licences.

The only finance available to the trust would be the income that the centre generates and it will need to cover, among other matters, the insurance and upkeep of the building and surrounding car park and play area and any national non-domestic rates.

The council report said if there is insufficient money within the accounts to run the centre it is not open to the trustees to use council funds to run the centre but that it would be possible for the councillors as trustees to generate income through the letting of the building.

Upon becoming trustees councillors need to be aware of Charity Commission guidance which covers things like the liability of trustees, management of trust assets, and the preparation and keeping of accounts.

The report also said councillors show consider how they intend to follow the commission’s governance code which is a standard of good governance practice for charities and explains the minimum standards that charities should meet to manage and control their activities with integrity, effectiveness, accountability and transparency, the report said.

Accounts

Councillors will also need to consider who they will employ to do their accounts and whether they would wish to employ an agent to carry out routine inspections in relation to maintenance and repair.

They would also need to consider how the charity would pay for these services.

At the moment only an in-principle decision is needed as to whether the councillors would be willing to take on trusteeship.

No firm decision can be made until the necessary due diligence exercise in respect of the Aberfan Trust has been done and scrutinised and the advice from the Charity Commission has been received with the report saying these could take some months.

In the meantime it’s proposed that the council enter into discussions with the current trustees to enable an agreement to ensure services can still be provided from the centre while the legal technicalities and the issue of trusteeship is resolved.

If agreed a further report would be presented to council after the due diligence exercise and after getting advice from the Charity Commission.

The report said there is a financial implication in relation to providing a service from Aberfan but this is unknown as it requires discussion with the current trustees.

It said Wellbeing Merthyr will need to charge the council a proper market rent to enable the council to use the building to run the services.

The running of the service will be managed by Halo Leisure Services Limited and a price will be negotiated with Halo.

There will be a financial implication in relation to the running of the due diligence exercise which will need officer time, the report said.


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