A NEWLY elected town councillor has vowed to defeat plans to put £75,000 of council taxpayers’ money into an arts project.
Leek Town Council earlier this year agreed in principle to donate £25,000 annually over three years to The Foxlowe, at the top of Market Place, prompting fears of an increase in council tax bills.
However, Alex Povey, who was elected onto the town council last week as a UKIP member and is chairman of its Staffordshire Moorlands branch, said it was wrong to use taxpayers’ money to single out one business for financial help in the current economic climate.
His comments came as it emerged The Foxlowe, a charitable trust, is employing a manager and a chef.
The venue runs a cafe, bars, film nights, and is host to much of this year’s Leek Arts Festival.
Trustees of the venue have defended the Foxlowe by saying it is a community asset and that they are looking to purchase the premises, which are privately owned.
But Mr Povey, who described the decision to give it cash as “appalling”, said: “My family is a big supporter of The Foxlowe and we have given money towards it.
“My dad, Steve, was also a big supporter of the venue.
“However, the taxpayer cannot be expected to put money into it.
“This would mean that taxpayers’ money is being used to fight other similar businesses in Leek who employ people and have to pay businesses rates.
"You simply can’t use taxpayers’ money to fight private businesses.” He added: “The council did nothing to help businesses who suffered through months of major road works in Leek.
“Has the council offered other businesses any help to enable them to keep people employed?
“The Foxlowe café is doing well and now employs a chef. Also it has manager. Were these jobs advertised?
“It is totally unfair, and I think my dad would have agreed that the people of Leek should not be forced to pay for something which is in opposition to private businesses.
"If people like my family want to donate as private individuals then they can do.
“There are about 8,500 households in Leek, this will cost them £8.75 each.
“I am sure the cafes and coffee shops in Leek, who have to fight for every penny of their income, would welcome a grant of £75,000 of taxpayers’ money.”
“Are they proposing to treat all of them in the same manner? There are also other venues in Leek which need money, like The Central Club and The Maude Institute. Have these been offered help?”
Matthew Cooper, vicechairman of UKIP's Staffordshire Moorlands branch, said the money would be better going to the Totally Locally scheme, which would then enable all shops to benefit.
He said: “If this money plus the Mary Portas funding which has been made available to the town was used, it would bring in great trade to Leek, which would then help all town centre businesses.
“These town businesses have to pay rates, but charities are exempt.”
Deputy Leek Mayor John Fisher, who proposed the payments to The Foxlowe, said: “The Foxlowe is an arts centre which Leek can be proud of. But, to ensure its future, the trustees quite rightly want to move to purchase.
“The £75,000 over three years will help in that endeavour, for once it belongs to the trust work can begin on grant applications to build or extend at the back of the Foxlowe to provide the flexible community space Leek needs to replace the demolished Town Hall.
“It is a great pity that the vision of the trustees, and indeed of the cross-party support on the town council, to ensure this wonderful project remains in Leek for perpetuity is not shared.”
Leek town mayor, Pam Wood, said the Foxlowe was a charity, not a business.
She said: “Many thousands of hours have been put in by volunteers at the venue. It is an asset to the town as an arts centre. The premises encourage people to come into Leek from others areas.
"No money will be given until the council is satisfied it will not be wasted, and the pledge is to give it when the time is right.
“We want to secure the valuable building for the community of Leek. It is the time to build something up for Leek as there is no town hall, which was promised years ago.”
Chairman of the Foxlowe’s committee Peter Kent-Baguley said the centre was a charity and community project for all the people of Leek and the surrounding Moorlands.
He added: “The centre has been taken to heart by 90 per cent of people. The £25,000 for three years is to help the purchase progress. Once purchased we can then apply for national grants.
“We presently employ a part-time manager on 20 hours a week.”