Friends Centre in Brighton to close with the loss of 46 jobs

Posted On 31 Jul 2020 at 12:08 am

The Friends Centre is to close with the loss of 46 jobs despite the promise of a £100,000 lifeline from Brighton and Hove City Council.

The adult learning centre is due to go into administration today (Friday 31 July), with just one part-time member of staff expected to transfer to the council.

An estimated 21 community learning and adult skills staff had been expecting to transfer the council on Saturday (1 August) after a rescue plan was agreed at the end of April.

But three weeks ago, the charity’s trustees voted unanimously to call in the administrators.

And on Tuesday (28 July) staff – who help some of those most in need of support in Brighton and Hove – were told that the council would be unable to go ahead with a bail out.

One staff member said: “Unfortunately, over several years, Friends Centre has suffered considerable financial difficulties related to changes in the sector and funding for adult education.

“More recently, the impact of closures and cancellations resulting from the covid-19 restrictions has been severe.

“This means that the charity is no longer solvent and will be going into administration.

“Because of this, and the fact that the council has reversed its decision to transfer all staff, all but one person will be made redundant and forced to recover redundancy payments through the administration process and government support.

“Friends Centre has been delivering adult education courses in Brighton for 75 years and this is a huge loss to the city.

“The staff team, volunteers and learners are all devastated by this news which came just three days before the expected transfer date.”

The council said yesterday (Thursday 30 July): “It has not been possible to enter in to a lease with the Friends Centre, in Isetta Square, as they have been unable to secure permission from their head landlord to sub-lease to the council.”

The council had hoped that an agreement would be reached with the landlord, Crest Nicholson, and did not believe that suitable affordable premises could be found.

Instead, the council said that it would bring some of the work in-house and look urgently for another sub-contractor.

This was crucial, councillors were told, to save the council from losing funding worth £573,000 from the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

But with changes at the Whitehawk Inn three years ago and the loss of the Bridge adult education centre two years ago, the pool of potential sub-contractors had shrunk.

A report to councillors said: “Negotiations were entered in good faith by both parties.

“The chain of events and the necessary due diligence exercise have highlighted significant risks which cannot be overcome within the original timescale and would leave the council at high risk of financial and reputational damage.

“The proposed delivery model for the next academic year will include a mix of sub-contracting and in-house delivery in respect of family learning.

“The focus of the service remains on vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.

“This will enable sustainable planning and delivery of the service going forward.”

The council held a Special Policy and Resources Committee meeting yesterday (Thursday 30 July) to agree the next steps.

The “virtual” meeting agreed to ask the council’s Audit and Standards Committee to commission an audit into why the rescue package agreed in April could not be made to work.

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