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Issue 316 – Town council answers critics over Cheese & Grain plans

QUESTIONS about Frome Town Council’s plans to take over the Cheese and Grain venue were left unanswered at the charity’s Annual General Meeting, when there was no representation from the town council and a powerpoint presentation was sent instead.

Anger has since been expressed by trustees of the Cheese and Grain and members of the public who attended the meeting and in response, Frome Town Council has now produced a list of questions people are asking, along with the town council’s answers.
Frome town councillors will discuss the issue at a special town council meeting on 22nd December, which may be attended by members of the public.
The Cheese and Grain AGM, held on 7th December, attracted a large turnout from trustees, concerned residents and members alike who eagerly await clarification of the future of the venue.

Angry and dismayed

Following the AGM, Mary Phillips, a member of the Cheese and Grain said, “I have never before contacted my town councillors, but I am both angry and dismayed by what I have heard regarding the town council’s plans for the Cheese and Grain.
“The council has no business plan drawn up for running the building and some of the ideas put forward by the council in the, quite frankly amateurish, powerpoint presentation I saw last night at the Cheese and Grain’s AGM are unrealistic, would threaten the continued viability of the building as a community resource and do not give me any confidence that the Cheese and Grain could survive in the medium to long term.
“On the other hand, the Cheese and Grain trustees do have a worked out business plan, which includes applying for funding from sources that would be unavailable to the council.
“I understand that there will be an Extraordinary General Meeting of the council on the 22nd December. At this meeting, councillors will be presented with two options – either withdraw funding (in which case the Cheese and Grain will have to close) or take over control. This is holding a gun to the head of the trustees.”

Council statement

Following criticism after the AGM of the Cheese and Grain, Frome Town Council has issued the following statement outlining questions they are being asked, and the council’s response:-

What is the rationale for discussing whether to have a new Service Level Agreement between the Cheese and Grain and Frome Town Council?
FTC has invested nearly £1m in the Cheese and Grain over the past 10 years and this illustrates its commitment to the building and the service it provides the community.
While the C&G is and remains a popular venue, since the Trust was established, FTC has seen little material improvement to the building and the “offer” it makes to the community. We accept that this is primarily due to lack of income.
While the C&G does now have a Business Plan, FTC is concerned that it is dependant on a £35,000 pa grant from FTC to create a surplus. The Trust has no track record securing significant external funding other than from FTC. We are also concerned that projected income over the next four years is constant except for planned income from a converted Mezzanine floor which in turn is dependant upon securing external funding.
FTC believes that the Cheese and Grain is not able to become financially self-sufficient.
FTC has to decide on 22 December whether the risk of investing further annual payments of £35000 pa is too great or whether that and more money could be invested in the Cheese and Grain directly to better effect.

Why does the Town Council want to take over the Cheese and Grain?
FTC did not set out to take over the Cheese and Grain. It has offered to do so in order to sustain the building if the Trustees decide they can no longer operate without FTC’s annual grant. And the Trustees have indicated that they cannot.
FTC’s objective would be to retain and develop the building for the community as a whole.
FTC believes that if it did take over the building then it would have access to the funding required to develop the Cheese and Grain in ways that the Trust has not managed to do.
If the Trust closes or asks FTC to take over, then FTC will consult, draft a business plan, secure funding and implement it. This plan is likely to retain some current services. This may take a year or more to implement and in the meantime, FTC would continue current services. It has no intention of closing the Cheese & Grain.
Why hasn’t a Business Plan been produced already?
Drafting a Business Plan for the Cheese and Grain now or in the recent past would not be the correct way forward as we have no indication from the Trust that they want us to take over.
What is the timetable?
FTC meets on 22 December to decide whether to agree a new Service Level Agreement with the Cheese and Grain from 1 April 2011. If it decides not to, it will also then decide whether to take on the running of the C&G if requested to do so by the Trustees.
Has FTC followed correct procedures so far?
Yes, the Chairman of the Policy and Finance Committee was asked on 15th June 2010 to negotiate with the Cheese and Grain over a possible new SLA (2010/49/P&F). She did this. The Policy and Finance Committee minute of 19 October agreed, “that Frome Town Council should take on the running of the Cheese & Grain with a view to refurbishing it along the lines that the Cheese & Grain Trustees envisage, as well as including our own offices, and to ensure the Cheese & Grain continues to operate and develop to benefit the people of Frome.” (2010/117/P&F)
This minute was approved at the following meeting (4 in favour, 1 against) as a true record.
Due to the significance of the Cheese and Grain for the Town, it was discussed at Full Council on 24 November where the Chairman proposed to hold an extra ordinary meeting to discuss the matter further.
This meeting will be held on 22nd December at 7.00pm at Rook Lane Chapel. Members of the public are welcome to attend and to address the Council.

Cllr Philip Whitmarsh, who was both deputy mayor and a member of the body who developed the Cheese and Grain into a community use building said, “The £35,000 a year which Frome Town Council give to the Cheese and Grain is on a four year basis, which has now expired. Now we are considering what to do.”
“There has been negotiations between Frome Town Council and the Cheese and Grain trustees since June of this year but no decisions have been made to determine whether the council will have a hand in the running of the Cheese and Grain, that is not the correct picture at the moment.
“However if it is negotiated that the council should have a hand in the running of the venue, then we want to work together with the trustees to move the venue forward in the most viable manner. In order to achieve this then perhaps two heads are better than one, but it must be clear that the council aim to work together for, not against, the future of the Cheese and Grain.
“The whole point of these negotiations is so that the Cheese and Grain can continue to operate.
“Originating from Frome and working on the committee that bought the Cheese and Grain together I want to see the venue move on, we cannot continue unaltered and have to look at things differently.
“It is a venue that serves the community and has done for the past 11 or 12 years. The council fund the venue in excess of £80,000 a year, a running total of nearly £1million.
“If we change nothing, then there could be an additional £1million over the next ten years, whereas a collaboration of trustees and the council could work together to subsidise this.
“Are the trustees prepared to work with the council to achieve the best possible result for the Cheese and Grain?”

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