Fears for future of market, arts and toilets in NI town after cuts to public funds

Fears are growing for the future of a Co Armagh market, arts facilities and toilets after claims they face continued cuts to public funds.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 9:28 am
Toilets at Millennium Court Arts Centre

It is understood a reduction in funding could lead to the closure of the arts centre, market and public toilets at Portadown's Millennium Court Arts Centre.

Behind closed doors on Monday night, it has been claimed Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council ratified continued funding at a three percent reduction for Portadown 2000 which runs the Millennium Court Arts Centre.

At the meeting, marked Confidential Business, before which journalists were asked to leave the Council Chamber, councillors agreed to continue the Service Level Agreement (SLA) with Portadown 2000 for one year.

Portadown 2000 was set up after the town was bombed in 1998 in a bid to unite civic society and the then Craigavon Borough Council.

However, since the establishment of ABC Council, Portadown 2000 - designated as a ‘social enterprise’ - has come under more scrutiny.

Currently it holds an SLA with the council to provide a number of services, including the indoor market, tourist information, toilets and arts facilities. It also hosts the town’s only Ticketmaster outlet.

One council source said there had been concerns raised about how its budget of around £250k per year is spent.

However, this was dismissed by another source close to the council who said it is one of the most scrutinised groups to receive funding from the council and is regularly audited.

This source said the three percent chop, which Portadown 2000 had been asked to make by the council, could lead to more job cuts at the Millennium Court Arts Centre which has already seen the loss of its arts director.

The source said: “This could be the end of Portadown 2000 and the services it provides as we know it. It may be that Portadown 2000 will have to rethink its future strategy.

“This could mean that there will be no market, no toilets and no arts provision.”

A spokesperson for Portadown 2000 said: “Portadown 2000 welcomes the decision of the Local Council to renew the Service Level Agreement.

“We firmly believe that the future of community services can only be assured with a positive partnership between the voluntary and public sectors in which each partner has a positive contribution to make for the benefit of the community.

“Portadown is a centre of manufacturing activity and as such contributes greatly to the wealth of the province. It is therefore only reasonable to expect that the public sector both national and local assist in maintaining a vibrant community.”

A spokesperson for ABC Council said: “As this was discussed in confidential business at Council on Monday night, we are unable to comment at this stage. Council cannot release any decision until the call-in period of five working days (following the publication of the decision notice from the Council meeting) expires.”