Co­mar : Job losses ‘just halted, not saved’

The Oban Times - - News - LOUISE GLEN lglen@oban­times.co.uk

A FOR­MER mem­ber of the shadow board of the Ar­gyll arts and cul­ture or­gan­i­sa­tion, Co­mar, de­scribed the past six weeks like ‘pulling teeth’.

Speak­ing at Mull com­mu­nity coun­cil last week, four mem­bers of the shadow board tasked with tak­ing back some con­trol of the Mull-based busi­nesses, An To­bar and Mull Theatre, said their job had been an up­hill strug­gle.

Last month on Au­gust 3 at a public meet­ing, there was al­most unan­i­mous op­po­si­tion to plans by the pub­licly-funded Co­mar to sack the two men who had set up An To­bar and Mull Theatre.

The meet­ing moved a vote of ‘no con­fi­dence’ in the board of Co­mar af­ter hear­ing al­le­ga­tions of a lack of ac­count­abil­ity and con­cerns of a mass walk- out of is­land rep­re­sen­ta­tives on its com­mit­tee. Dawn Reade, who chairs the shadow board of Co­mar, told the com­mu­nity coun­cil: ‘The clock has been stopped on job losses. But has is only halted the process - the jobs have not been saved.’

Dis­cussing the progress of the shadow board in learn­ing about the fi­nances and gov­er­nance of Co­mar, Mull-based coun­cil­lor Mary-Jean Devon said: ‘I have to say I ad­mire and re­spect the shadow board - I don’t know where they are get­ting their pa­tience from.

‘I walked away from the shadow board as I felt my pres­ence threat­ened Co­mar and I only want this mat­ter to be re­solved.

‘My per­sonal opin­ion is that the com­mu­nity has been drip-fed in­for­ma­tion by Co­mar that it thinks that we, as a com­mu­nity, need.

‘It has been like pulling teeth at times. There is very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion avail­able. Be­ing on the back foot all the time must be ex­haust­ing for the shadow board.

‘Co­mar has all the in­for­ma­tion and it is not be­ing passed on.

‘From what lit­tle I un­der­stand and have been told about the fi­nances, it might be the point of no re­turn very soon.

‘My main worry is that the com­mu­nity will be­gin to boy­cott Co­mar. Some­thing pos­i­tive for the com­mu­nity has to come out of this.’

Neil Hut­ton, a mem­ber of the shadow board, said: ‘We are a group of in­di­vid­u­als act­ing to­gether to im­ple­ment the man­date of the public meet­ing.

‘The shadow board has been work­ing since Au­gust 3 to gain recog­ni­tion, and to bring about its ob­jec­tives.

‘So far we have gained recog­ni­tion from Cre­ative Scot­land af­ter a meet­ing with their chief ex­ec­u­tive, gained recog­ni­tion from the re­main­ing Co­mar board and held three meet­ings with them to date, with more planned.

‘We have had the re­dun­dancy and re­struc­ture halted pend­ing dis­cus­sions and worked on open­ing up the mem­ber­ship and re­plac­ing the ex­ist­ing board with an elected board.

‘While the shadow board is mak­ing progress to­wards its goals, we also have to make it clear that Co­mar is fac­ing se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties.

‘Those dif­fi­cul­ties started with a 71 per cent grant award. But it’s got worse since. Co­mar has con­tin­ued to over­spend, while fail­ing to raise what they ex­pected from other sources.

‘We may stop these re­dun­dan­cies, in­tro­duce mem­ber­ship and a more ac­count­able board, but we can’t print money.

‘Co­mar is fac­ing very dif­fi­cult times and there will be no easy an­swers. Those on the shadow board are giv­ing gen­er­ously of their time in the hope of sav­ing An To­bar and Mull Theatre.

‘We would ask that the com­mu­nity coun­cil recog­nise this and sup­port our ef­forts in what­ever way you can,’ he added.

The com­mu­nity coun­cil of­fered its sup­port to the shadow board.

A Co­mar spokes­woman said: ‘Co­mar is work­ing con­struc­tively with the shadow board and has shared a con­sid­er­able amount of in­for­ma­tion with them at a se­ries of meet­ings.

‘Co­mar ap­pointed in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tants, CEIS, who have con­sulted mem­bers of the shadow board and the lo­cal com­mu­nity. CEIS will be shar­ing their re­port with the shadow board to­mor­row, (Septem­ber 18).

‘Some bud­get ar­eas are show­ing an over­spend and Co­mar’s re­serves will re­duce as a re­sult. Full ac­counts for the year to March 2015 will be avail­able at the Co­mar AGM in Novem­ber.’

Ar­gyll and Bute MSP Michael Rus­sell said: ‘There must be new di­rec­tors cho­sen by the com­mu­nity and there must be a plan ac­cept­able to the com­mu­nity which in­cludes a with­drawal of the re­dun­dan­cies, an open mem­ber­ship base and a new ap­proach to serv­ing Mull and a wider area.’

KEY­NOTE: The Misha MacPher­son trio are one of the many

bands to play at An To­bar

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