The financial collapse of the charitable body which managed the Fairfield Halls did not prevent its chief executive, Simon Thomsett, receiving his salary payments in full right up to last Friday.
Thomsett, who had worked at Fairfield Halls for six years, was the Halls’ highest paid employee, on a salary of around £90,000.
The council had provided a £750,000 cash injection just six months ago, after the amount had been agreed with the Halls’ management, to ensure that all redundancy obligations would be met for the venue’s staff.
Instead, Fairfield staff will now receive their redundancy payments through the government scheme.
Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd called in the administrators just three days after the venue’s closure for a two-year, £30 million refurbishment which is being funded by Croydon Council, with £12 million up front and the remaining £18 million from anticipated development profits.
This final episode raises further questions about the capabilities of the management of the Fairfield Halls, and of Thomsett, who was actively involved in the Croydon Tories-backed “Save Our Fairfield” campaign which sought to derail the refurbishment scheme in favour of a longer, and costlier, phased redevelopment.
Even to the last, the Fairfield management was running a survey among those on its mailing list, using a set of blatantly loaded questions, to create a set of responses which might have been used to suggest that the Halls had public support for continuing to be operated by the charity when it re-opens in 2018.
“While it’s true that Fairfield Halls venues were used by some children’s and community groups, it’s wholly misleading to imply, as they sought to do with their survey, that this was the bulk of what was going on there,” a Town Hall source said. “The commercial offerings were clearly not successful enough, the management had failed, for various reasons, to secure significant sponsors or Arts Council grants, and many local arts groups and am-drams felt that they were priced out of using the Fairfield Halls by the management.
“That’s how we get to a situation where, even after being handed a chunk of cash for the purpose, they can’t manage to pay their own staff.”
With Paula Murray, the Town Hall’s “culture czarina”, now installed full-time, the council has been actively seeking a partnership with a theatre operator with a more successful track record. An appointment is expected to be announced before the end of this year.
Chris Herron, joint administrator at Herron Fisher, said that Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd’s insolvency marked “the end of the road” for the organisation, which had been set-up with charitable status. Herron told The Stage: “There isn’t enough money to pay everyone in full straight away, so Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd is insolvent, and we’re dealing with that process.”
That “process” seems likely to strip the Halls of some of its assets.
Herron also said the insolvency is unlikely to affect the centre’s planned reopening. “In terms of holding up the refurbishment, I don’t think it should – they [the council] presumably will just carry on,” he said.
“We are deeply saddened to hear that the Fairfield trust has gone into administration,” Croydon Council said in a statement.
“We made a payment of £750,000 to the trust earlier this year on the understanding this would cover all the necessary costs of closure, including the staff, and it is very disappointing to learn this is not the case.”
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