CONCERNS about finance have been raised over a community hub that was set up in the wake of council cuts.

The Westhoughton Community Hub was formed after a public outcry about the closure of an adult education centre with classes run by Bolton College in 2017.

In a bid to keep the centre open, it was to be run by residents with a board of trustees which included three councillors.

However, after difficulties there followed a split in the leadership. Now one of the founders of the Hub and a former leaseholder of the building, Gaynor Ratcliffe, has raised concerns about the finances at the centre.

She also alleges the Hub has not provided proof of DBS checks, held an AGM without complying with the terms set out in the Hub’s constitution, and governance concerns.

The complaints have been considered and dismissed by Bolton Council and the Local Government Ombudsman.

Both bodies say that because councillors on the hub’s board, Cllr Anna-Marie Watters, Cllr Christine Wild, and Cllr David Chadwick, were not functioning as official representatives of Bolton Council, there is no case to answer.

But Ms Ratcliffe is still unhappy that correct procedure was not being followed in the running of the Hub and maintains that complaints should be reviewed against the councillors’ Code of Conduct.

A letter from the Borough Solicitor Helen Gorman to Ms Ratcliffe in November, 2018, and seen by The Bolton News, said a recent financial healthcheck of the Hub showed “there were issues with the governance of the Hub, its financial arrangements in relation to pay and personnel, managing cash, managing the bank account, managing its PayPal account, managing lettings and its assets in general.”

A report to the council's audit committee in January said that an action plan had been provided to help improve governance, financial and operations systems.

The letter was Ms Gorman and Bolton Council chief executive Tony Oakman’s response to Ms Ratcliffe’s complaints. However, they said they would not be investigating complaints because they did not fall under the remit of the Code of Conduct.

In a draft decision, the Local Government Ombudsman investigator also said: “Ms [Ratcliffe] complained about the Council’s failure to investigate her complaint about councillors whom she says have breached the member’s Code of Conduct in their positions on a local business hub.

“Subject to any comments Ms [Ratcliffe] might make, my view is that the Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint. This is because the councillors were not acting in their capacity as members of the Council and are not subject to the Code of Conduct in this matter.”

However, Ms Ratcliffe says that the councillors were acting in their council roles, as the constitution of the Westhoughton Hub requires elected members of Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) to be on the group’s board.

Cllr Chadwick said: “As far as I’m aware, the local government ombudsman has given the councillors a clean bill of health. I was definitely not acting in my role as a councillor. I was trying to run a community group in an efficient manner, to the best of my ability.”

He added that there were concerns that if the community centre was not created, “the building would cease to exist”.

He said: “I believe that all three of us worked very well. We’re there as three people who want this thing to succeed. It’s hard work but it’s also very rewarding.”

Cllr Watters, who was a leaseholder on the building with Ms Ratcliffe, said: “I was acting as both [a councillor and resident] but not representing membership and committees as deemed by Bolton Council. I’m acting as a councillor and as a resident.”

Cllr Wild said: “We were acting for the community.”

She added: “Yes [I was acting as a councillor]. If that’s the original constitution, then that’s how it was at the time.”