Institute Gets Time to Sort out Problems over Finance

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Byline: By Paul Dale Public Affairs Editor

A south Birmingham community centre under threat of closure has been given an 18-month breathing space.

But the future of the Friends' Institute in Balsall Heath remains in doubt after city council officials confirmed it could cost pounds 2 million to repair and bring the Victorian building up to modern health and safety standards.

More than 40 arts and community organisations based at the Institute are facing hefty rent rises and have been told by the council to explore ways of running the building themselves through a Community Development Trust.

Members of the trusts and charities subcommittee heard yesterday that the tenants pay a total rent of pounds 40,000 a year, leaving the council to find pounds 39,000 annually to subsidise the building's running costs.

The sub-committee was also told the council has failed to comply with trust law by failing for more than 20 years to lodge annual accounts for the Friends' Institute with the Charity Commission.

The commission has now given the council permission to review all rents at the Institute.

Bret Willers, director of the Hall Green Constituency, which has overall responsibility for running the building, said: "We are emphasising the option of moving towards a Community Development Trust so that the community will be involved in managing the building.

"But there are major issues relating to the fabric of the building. It is very old and costly to run."

Mr Willers pointed out that the council's 10 constituency committees, covering the whole of Birmingham, have capital budgets totalling only pounds 3 million.

It was inconceivable that the Hall Green constituency would be able to find pounds 2 million to carry out improvement work at the Institute, including replacing windows, providing a new heating system and installing a lift. …