THE “lights could go out” at the Storey Creative Industries Centre after councillors decided that Lancaster City Council should not take control of the cash-strapped building.
That was the warning of Michael Gibson, managing director of digital marketing company Fat Media, after councillors voted to withdraw support for the Storey’s operating company SCIC Ltd and for a full report into the Meeting House Lane centre’s future.
“The decision leaves us in no man’s land, with the potential for no one to be in control, the doors to close and the lights to go out,” said Mr Gibson.
His firm, one of 14 based at the former Storey Institute employing over 90 people, is due to leave the centre in September and move into offices above Tesco Express on King Street.
Both Fat Media and mobile app developer Moshen decided to move out after the Storey board hiked service charges.Mr Gibson also called for SCIC Ltd to be wound up and for the council to meet with tenants to discuss the future.
“We’ve only just received invoices for this month, and don’t know who to pay them to,” he said. “Make these decisions, and we’ll immediately pay our rent and service charge to whoever...to help keep the building operational.”
Councillors at Wednesday’s meeting at Morecambe Town Hall were told that the cabinet’s decision earlier this month to take over the centre now “had greater costs and risks than was the case two weeks ago” and could cost at least £200,000.
Tory councillor Alycia James warned that taking over the centre would be “an utter disaster” because SCIC Ltd was in an “atrocious” financial position.
Council chief executive Mark Cullinan was grilled by angry councillors over his decision to approve a £90,000 loan to SCIC Ltd in December 2011.
Mr Cullinan admitted he would not have recommended for the council to take control of the centre if he had known the financial implications.
Nadine Muschamp, head of financial services, said the council “would have exposed itself to VAT liabilities of £250,000” had Mr Cullinan not approved the bail-out. Councillor Roger Mace said SCIC Ltd’s accounts showed its liabilities outweighed its assets as far back as March 2010. He said this meant the company “had been insolvent for two-and-a-half years”.
The Storey Centre management board also came in for criticism. Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox said: “It’s not the tenants’ fault the Storey board and chief executive (Tom Clark) have acted the way they have. ”
The council has now moved its Visitor Information Centre out of the Storey and into Lancaster Library temporarily, saying “it is unclear for how long (the Storey) will remain open”.