A call on whether to let off the company responsible for car parks across the town centre from some of the £3.8m it owes the council is to go to a vote by all councillors.

National Car Parks Limited (NCP Ltd) is asking the council to wipe out £1.2m, plus VAT, of the debt accrued by the company over the course of the coronavirus crisis.

On October 2, the Labour Group cabinet approved the request but it was summoned to a scrutiny committee by the opposition.

On October 18, the scrutiny committee considered the request after an explanation of it by the Labour Group's Hamid Khurram.

Cllr Khurram said: "I, the cabinet, and the leader have not considered this lightly. We supported this after close consideration of the request. 

"It is important to be clear that the council is owed £3.8m and that this will result in the rest of the balance being paid with no payment plan."

Cllr Khurram added: "We are not losing any funding due to this decision. 

"The funding comes from a coronavirus grant awarded during the pandemic to support, amongst other things, the losses due to the closure of the car parks and, when the car parks were open, the losses due to the lack of patronage."

When NCP Ltd agreed to a contract with the authority, it agreed to a Guaranteed Revenue Payment to be paid once a month and to be reviewed once a year in return for the right to run the two multi-storey car parks on Deane Road and Topp Way, the two car parks next to The Octagon, the car park next to the market and the on-street terminals across the town centre. 

This Guaranteed Revenue Payment was around £80,000, plus VAT, at the most recent review.

The Bolton News: John Walsh (bottom) and Craig Rotheram (top)

John Walsh, of the Conservative Group, said: "When the contract was set up it was a marginal case in terms of the revenues. It was a marginal case as to whether it was adequate or as to whether we should seek a higher rate of return. 

"To talk about reducing those revenues I think it is perverse in the extreme."

Craig Rotheram, of Horwich and Blackrod First, compared the situation to the Asons Scandal of 2016 when the Bolton Council paid hundreds of thousands towards the refurbishment of its office.

It did so in secret before it was revealed by the Bolton News.

Cllr Rotheram said: "It's got a stink about it. 

"I think you guys need to remember what happened at Asons. 

"You are going down the same route so be very, very careful. 

"Whether it is funding from the council budget or funding from the coronavirus budget it is still my money, your money, and I do not want to see it going into the hands of a company with the ability to pay."

The scrutiny committee approved the request by a margin of one vote but those who voted against the request vetoed it under their powers in the Standing Orders. The call is to go to a vote by all councillors at the next meeting next month.

Previously a spokesperson for NCP Ltd declined to comment.

This article was written by Jack Tooth. To contact him, email jack.tooth@newsquest.co.uk or follow @JTRTooth on Twitter.