Taxpayers to prop up fraud-hit Leeds theatre’s pension pot

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Leeds City Council has agreed to continue to guarantee the pensions programme for a flagship city theatre company which was rocked by a fraud scandal involving a former finance chief.

As previously reported, management arrangements at the Leeds Grand, the City Varieties and the Hyde Park Picture House are being overhauled.

The trio of venues are run by an umbrella company called the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd (LGTOH), which is wholly owned by Leeds City Council.

But moves are now under way for the company to be “restructured to become a fully independent charitable trust”.

The overhaul follows a period of financial turmoil which was compounded by a major fraud investigation, which eventually saw a former finance boss jailed for five years for defrauding the theatre out of £178,000.

A new report just approved by senior council officials says the pension guarantee is vital to securing the theatre company’s independence.

It says: “Given that it is the council’s policy direction for the company to become fully independent, and that without the council confirming its guarantee for that admission of the company into the pension fund, this cannot be progressed, it is thus recommended that the council confirms its pension guarantee to the company.”

The report adds: “The pension fund have confirmed that the changes to the Articles of Association do

not affect the company’s eligibility to participate in the WYPF, and given the above, both the company and the fund have requested that the council confirms that it is still willing to act as guarantor.”

Under the new management arrangements, the council would still be a major backer of the company’s work, but the representation of councillors on the board would be significantly reduced.

The council’s decision-making cabinet heard previously that the changes come “on the back of the company reporting significant annual deficits in recent years”, although “strenuous efforts” had been made recently to improve the financial position.

A previous report to the executive board concluded that a breakaway from the council would “empower” the new management, allowing them to “forge ahead and operate as efficiently as possible”.

However it was also acknowledged that the council’s ongoing support is “essential” during the transition, and there is a need to “continue to maintain a positive and productive relationship thereafter”.

Gary Barlow

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