An extensive document, setting out the history of the dispute between Honiton Town Council and the charity that runs the Beehive, will be considered at a meeting next week.
As well as looking at the council’s current position, of having to retain the services of a barrister because of an arbitration process it says it has been forced into, the report considers how things can be moved forward. Legal fees have, so far cost the council £15,000.
The report states: “It would seem that HTC (Honiton Town Council) is now caught up in the position where it is faced with being handed the building back. There are a number of questions that are coming out of all this and which members need to consider.
“Can an agreeable solution be found? One would hope that it can, over the last week the clerk has been endeavouring to initially arrange meetings with Rob Sexton one of the Beehive Trustees. We were led to believe that the Chair of the Beehive, Mr Simmonds was not available due to ill health. Our solicitors were in fact then informed that HCC would meet with us but upon condition that there were three representatives of the Board including the Chair.
“It was accepted by the clerk that we would meet with Barry Simmonds and Serena Sexton. In many of the members comments on this issue in the past and in the information that the clerk had looked at, it was clear that one of the people might not be conducive to reaching an amicable settlement.
“Since their chair is a highly experienced businessman with accounting qualifications it seems reasonable to presume that he is fully aware of the financial position of HCC and what funding might be needed for HCC to be able to continue to manage the Beehive. HCC would not agree to this and have currently refused to meet.
“There is no doubt in members minds that HTC will need to financially support the charity. However, to do so the charity must provide all relevant information in relation to the operation of the Beehive in a timely manner so that HTC can properly assess what costs might be needed to be paid in order to allow for the continued operation of the Beehive.
“Both the chair of the charity and the clerk have discussed the possibility on a without prejudice basis of an annual amount being paid to the charity in order to cover a certain level of cost. HTC may also consider making a grant should HCC wish to apply for one.
“At the moment there is disagreement as to what the annual amount would need to be, but it is hoped that a meeting between HTC and HCC might allow for agreement to be reached. It should also be remembered that HTC pay the mortgage and only charge £1 with regards to the rental of the Beehive and are therefore already subsidising the management of the Beehive.
“If HCC require additional funding then they can, like all organisations apply for additional funding either through grant funding. If they make a strong case that over a longer period of time they require more because the business has seen a downturn in income, then the council could if it so decided that they might wish to levy a small increase in the precept in order to provide this. That is at the discretion of members to do.
“Members could of course agree to fund the whole of the outstanding debt being claimed by HCC. This would however be against advice received from our auditor and legal advisers. Although our legal advisers have made the point that every attempt should be made to try and reach a settlement as the legal costs of dealing with the dispute are disproportionate to the amounts currently in dispute.
“HTC has been forced into the position of having to spend over £15,000 in legal fees so far and one can only presume that HCC have spent a similar amount.
“There is also the reputational damage to both organisations being caused which should be taken into account, and it is in the best interests of all involved that a resolution is found that allows the community to feel reassured about the continuation of the centre.
“If the charity should go into administration, then there would be short-term disruption and any organisation that takes over the premises may well be looking for a subsidy to run the building. In addition, it may well be possible that both sides could be looking at further legal fees.”