Trowbridge Civic Centre caterers under fire after charging £18 for bowls of snacks (From Wiltshire Times)
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Trowbridge Civic Centre caterers under fire after charging £18 for bowls of snacks
The Catering team at Trowbridge’s Civic Centre may be sacked following complaints customers were charged more than £18 per bowl of peanuts and crisps.
Cirencester-based firm Crown Catering won the contract to provide food and run the bar at the centre after a tendering process, but there have been complaints about the quality and price of the service from customers and Twon Council staff at the venue.
One letter of complaint from Wiltshire College to the Civic Centre about a celebration event on June 19 reads: “We ordered a selection of snacks with budget of £200 including VAT £240. What was presented on the day was a bowl on each table with not a selection but filled up with either one type of crisps or peanuts... This worked out at over £18 per bowl! This we believe was totally unacceptable and has put us in an awkward and embarrassing situation in trying to justify this cost to our students.”
The Wiltshire Times has also seen complaints from Wiltshire Council, FRMS and others and understands around half-a-dozen have been made in total.
The centre, which is owned by Trowbridge Town Council, reopened in December after a £5m refurbishment project which included new kitchens, a cafeteria and bar areas.
Trowbridge Town Council will pay back more than £12m including interest after borrowing the money to pay for the Civic Centre work.
In a report to the management committee seen by the Wiltshire Times, Karl Buckingham, facilities manager, says: “It concerns me greatly that Crown are not able to provide a simple service effectively and professionally without the need for myself to intervene and provide solutions or for me to provide my own staff to assist with their poor planning.”
The council doesn’t pay Crown for catering, but is supposed to take 40 per cent of profits.
However Mr Buckingham added that Crown seemed to struggle with orders of more than 100 covers and high prices and lack of sales meant the council was taking a 40 per cent cut of “nothing”.
He added: “I strongly feel that we should look to terminate the contract and revert back to the way the service was provided before.”
The management committee for the Civic Centre are due to discuss the catering contract at a meeting this afternoon (Thursday).
There are several clauses that would allow either party to terminate the contract, including if the town council believed Crown were failing to perform.
Cllr Bob Brice, who chairs the centre’s management committee, said: “We’re under contract and we’re working through it. We’re looking for some improvement which hasn’t quite happened. There’s some disappointment as to the service and the fact is maybe we can do better independently. We’re trying to get the best for the Civic Centre.”
Quarterly performance figures for the centre are due out at the end of this month, and are expected to be poor.
Town councillor Graham Payne said he is concerned that unless the Civic Centre can establish a good reputation, it could become a “white elephant around the neck of the taxpayer.”
He added: “Only having been open for eight months the number of complaints would certainly seem to be excessive.
“The quarterly performance figures will be available in August and I think they will decide whether or not the contract is retained or if the contract is terminated.
“Certainly I think it was a bad decision to combine the bar sales and the food contract in one. It’s concerning given it’s a brand new facility that cost the rate payers of Trowbridge £5m if they can’t deliver the service people expect.”
However Darren Gadd, director of Crown Catering defended his company’s service: “We provide an excellent service, we are wedding caterers of the year for the south west,” he said.
“We have a very good relationship with the management at the Civic Centre.
“The contract is not under review, it is for three years. People have complained about the food at the Civic Centre and those complaints have not always been justified. Some are, as they are in any food business, and when that happens we aim to make improvements to our menu.”
Trowbridge’s mayor cllr John Knight, who sits on the management committee, said: “It’s a major concern for council and it’s something that has to be resolved quickly. As far as I’m concerned at the moment it’s damaging the reputation of the Civic Centre.”