Playgroup's £25,000 tax woe

A group of young mothers on a playgroup committee fear they may be saddled with paying off a £25,000 tax debt.Shocked parents could be left with picking up the bill after the closure of the long-standing centre at Holt.

A group of young mothers on a playgroup committee fear they may be saddled with paying off a £25,000 tax debt.

Shocked parents could be left with picking up the bill after the closure of the long-standing centre at Holt.

Former treasurer of the Peacock Children's Centre, Marie Phillips, said 11 mothers who stood as committee volunteers also later discovered they were trustees and could be liable for debts.

“We have an insurance policy which might pay up, but it is not guaranteed,” she said. “It's a worry.”

The long-running centre began as the Peacock Playgroup in 1972 and evolved into a centre which also provided pre- and after-school sess-ions for children up to the age of 10.

Two years ago it won a £43,000 BBC Children in Need grant to employ a family worker and launched a £20,000 appeal to build an extension to cope with its expanding workload.

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But new officials who took over last year discovered there were financial problems, including staff income tax deductions owed to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, said Mrs Phillips.

“We were insolvent and had to shut down, because it would have been illegal to carry on trading knowing the situation,” she added.

The group shut in the summer, and selling off a few toys had not raised much money, so it was hoped the building could be disposed of to help line their coffers and pay off the debts.

Town councillors, who discussed the problems, are seeing if the building could be bought by local heritage enthusiasts who are keen to start a museum in the town, and have been looking for a suitable site for years.

An extraordinary meeting of the children's centre would be held soon to finalise its dissolution, added Mrs Phillips, who said they were also in talks with Children in Need over some of the grant money which had still not been claimed.

Families hit by the closure have had their child care needs plugged in the short term, town councillors were told by Maggie Barwell, Norfolk County Council's area manager for early years and child care. She assured town councillors that most child care needs had been accommodated, although three children had moved from Holt to Sheringham primary schools as a result of the problem, showing the importance of child care to families.

“We have worked to make sure it did not leave a big hole,” she added. And a new children's centre planned to open on part of the Charles Road training centre field next August would cater for future growth.

Liz Traynier, the town council's appointee on the former centre committee, said she hoped the insurance would meet any debt liabilities as there were young mothers who could “ill afford to cover such costs personally”.

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