Hike in hall hire charge

AN increase to Morpeth Town Hall’s hire charge is set to be introduced in the near future.

A group of town councillors has recommended the £5 hourly rise for six months at evenings and weekends to cover the cost of a new building attendant, which the authority is required to employ following a visit to the building by a fire safety officer.

Officials believe this will have an impact on about 20 per cent of the current users, but hope it will not make a big difference to the number of bookings.

The employee will be asked to act as a security presence when other staff are not in the hall and help evacuate people in the event of an emergency.

Morpeth Town Council Clerk Gillian Turner said: “We need to have an attendant to meet the requirement by the fire officer to have a responsible person in place if there are any issues or problems at all times when the Town Hall is open.

“We’re setting aside an allocation of up to £5,000 for this worker, who will be there at evenings and weekends when no staff members are present, and councillors need to decide how to cover this cost.

“A rise in the hourly charge won’t make much of a difference to those holding weddings or other big parties in the evening, but it will affect groups who run coffee mornings and craft fairs.”

At a meeting of the authority’s Property and Asset Management Committee, Coun Graeme Trotter suggested putting it up by £5 per hour for a trial period.

“We can see how it goes and this also means that we would subsidise some of the cost, the users won’t have to foot the bill completely,” he said.

Coun Mark Horton and Coun Derek Thompson argued that more information was needed about how the attendant’s salary and increasing the charge by different amounts would impact on the Town Hall’s finances before a decision could be made.

There were also concerns that some groups would no longer book the building following a rise.

But when it came to a vote, five members were in favour of Coun Trotter’s proposal, two were against and one abstained.

The rise needs to be ratified by the council’s Finance and General Purpose Committee before it can take effect.

A Town Hall income update was also provided at the meeting and the authority’s £8,000 target for April 2011 to March 2012 was surpassed.

Ms Turner said: “The Ballroom and Corn Exchange are being used the most in the summer months so we may have to look at putting on more events or different types of event in the winter.

“The weddings are doing very well and there are often as many as seven or eight ceremonies on Saturdays.”

The long-term aim is for the building to operate at break-even on a regular basis.