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SAVE THE HAZLITT: Secret 'closure' documents revealed - exclusive

Tuesday 24th November 2020

MAIDSTONE Borough Council (MBC) considered four possible options before deciding to shut the Hazlitt Theatre and sack the operator, Parkwood Theatres.

Confidential documents seen by Daily Downs Mail show officers were urging members strongly to take the option which saves the most money and leaves the authority least contractually tied.

MBC needs to find considerable savings after losing revenues in the COVID-19 crisis.

In section three of papers prepared for the economic, regeneration and leisure committee (ERL) on November 12, unelected officers offered four options to elected cross-party members:

1. Do nothing (not recommended by officers);
2. Mothball Hazlitt under Parkwood control with one member of staff (not recommended by officers);
3. Mothball Hazlitt under council control, lose all staff, and retain parkwood Theatres as future operator (not recommnded by officers);
4. Terminate the contract and return building to council control (recommended by officers).

Option 4, says the paperwork, "reduces the monthly outgoings to the smallest amount and removes the council from all future contract obligations.

"This will give the council the ability to be agile in the future and pursue future options at the Hazlitt Theatre.

"This option has a monthly cost of £8,630 and under this option the council may be liable for redundancy costs and TUPE (worker) transfer of Parkwood Theatres' employees, depending on chosen route of termination.

"If the council is liable for all redundancy costs the theatre would be closed for nine months before a real cost saving was achieved in the Hazlitt Theatre budget.

"Budgetary savings could be achieved much sooner than that if the contract discussions with Parkwood Theatres are more favourable."

Elected members agreed to option four, although some expressed grave reservations about making the decision.

SAVE THE HAZLITT: YOUTH THEATRE COULD MOVE TO LEISURE CENTRE

Cross party members led by Cllr Jonathan Purle have "called in" the decision to the policy and resources committee on Wednesday evening. P&R could overturn the earlier decision.

MBC's report, in section four, acknowledges there are downsides to it termination of the contract with Parkwood.
Section 4.2 states: "By terminating the contract, the council will lose expertise of its theatre operator and will need to re-tender the contract for these seervices at a future date."

But the officers argue the retained expertise is not being used when the theatre is shut and Parkwood "may not survive the pandemic" and "future circumstances may not support a theatre".

Cllr Gill Fort, member of the ERL committee which voted for option four, said: "It was done with a heavy heart. No one wants to lose the theatre."

Independent borough member Cllr Eddie Powell said the council was spending public money like "drunken sailors on shore leave" on luxury flats for commercial rent, the Lockmeadow leisure complex and its "pet" housing project for 4,000 houses in Lenham for which it now styles itself as its "master developer".

The council has faced a massive public backlash since Daily Downs mail broke the story of the closure on November 13.

Since then, nearly 5,000 people have joined the Downs Mail SAVE THE HAZLITT Facebook group while 86% of a new poll say their voting intentions have changed ahead of next May's borough council elections as a result of the closure furore. VOTE IN THE POLL

 

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