Council-run cafe could face the axe after costing more than £300,000 since opening

InspIrations Coffee House and Garden Centre.
InspIrations Coffee House and Garden Centre.

A council-run cafe is at serious risk of closure after costing the authority over £300,000 in the last four years.

Hartlepool’s council leader said he is not prepared to see taxpayers’ money continued to be pumped into Inspirations Coffee House in Hartlepool’s Stranton Cemetery if it can not at least break even.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

The future of the cafe, which opened to much fanfare in 2013 at a cost of £280,000, was due to be decided at a meeting of the council’s Finance and Policy Committee.

The options on the table included for it to continue trading until the end of the financial year and to come up with alternative delivery models as part of a review.

The second option was to close the facility.

A decision was deferred for a month after the council’s Unison union representative said it had begun talks with staff over terms and conditions in a bid to keep it open.

Edwin Jeffries said: “Discussions are ongoing to try to get a solution that would allow what I believe is a valuable facility to continue trading.”

Accounts were presented after calls from opposition councillors back in December 2015 following concerns at its running costs.

They showed that between 2013-14 and 2015-16, the cafe had lost £77,000 after running costs outweighed income.

The best scenario this year is that it will break even for its £95,000 operating costs or at worst be £15,000 in the red.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, chair of the finance committee, said the talks between the cafe’s management and union should be allowed to happen, but added: “If that doesn’t come to fruition my leaning would be I’m sick to death of defending the indefensible of something that carried over from the previous administration.”

The cafe was hailed as a key part of a new garden centre development in Tanfield Road.

A report said while turnover and profits have increased over the years, food costs have risen and there is a “significant risk” it will not break even this year.

Independent Councillor Paul Thompson said: “There’s been a lot of public comment about the Inspirations cafe. We are now in a position where taxpayers’ money is being used to subsidise what is in a sense a private enterprise.”

He urged the review to include the option of a private company taking over.