WEST Berkshire Council has called in its lawyers to settle a ‘contentious’ payment of £43,000 it says it is owed by Kennet School, in relation to the leisure centre.
The money has been disputed between the council and what is now the Kennet Academy Trust, since the school became an academy in 2011.
The £43,000 makes up part of West Berkshire Council’s projected £870,000 overspend and the council has carried over the amount in its budget every year since 2011.
Speaking at a meeting last week, the council’s executive member for leisure Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley) said: “It’s a frustratingly long, ongoing issue that we have had with Kennet School.
“All I can say is we are plugging away to ensure we do get this payment back from them.
“It’s a difficult situation.
“When everything was transferred over to the academy, and because the leisure centre is a shared space between public and school use, it was very difficult to make the decision as to who was paying for what.
“It is going on, but we are acutely aware that we do need a resolution to it.
“We are determined to recoup the money, but it’s taking an awfully long time.”
Kennet pupils use the leisure centre for some lessons, but neither side has said why the disputed sum is owed, however.
The headteacher at Kennet, Paul Dick, said: “There has been sporadic communication between West Berkshire Council and Kennet School about the use of the leisure centre.
“I am confident this matter will be resolved appropriately.
“The key information about the leisure centre is that it continues to provide excellent opportunities for both the wider community, in and out of school hours and, of course, for the pupil population of Kennet and many local primary schools too.
“I put on record the fact that the leisure centre staff and the school staff work really well together, for a common goal.”
The issue was raised at a recent Thatcham Town Council meeting by Liberal Democrat councillor Lee Dillon (Thatcham north).
But Rob Denton-Powell (Con, Thatcham south and Crookham) said: “It’s something that is between the academy and West Berkshire Council.
“I think the detail should be left between these two as it’s quite contentious.”
A spokeswoman for West Berkshire Council, Peta Stoddart-Crompton, said: ‘We are trying to resolve this issue. The matter is now in the hands of our lawyers.”
Speaking after the meeting, the leader of the Lib Dem opposition on the district council, Mr Dillon, said: “Hilary Cole said they are trying everything they can.
“Either Kennet owes it or they don’t and £43,000 is a lot of money in a West Berkshire-strapped budget, which could be used to increase library opening hours or to reduce charges at waste centres.
“I expect the authority to be more proactive in following various routes to get that money back.
“Six years to get your solicitors involved seems an unnecessary delay to me.
“They either owe it or they don’t and they need to come to a compromise and get it settled.”