A Bolton-based personal injury firm that was given a ‘secret’ £300,000 grant from the council to refurbish its offices has declined to comment on whether it will be collecting rent from tenants of the building.
Advertisements for tenants of Newspaper House, 'refurbished to a high standard’, have appeared on property website Rightmove.
The advert, which does not state the rent, says: ‘The property has recently been purchased by an owner-occupier in Asons Solicitors who will be using part ground floor, 1st and 2nd floors for their practice with the 3rd floor also tenanted. Over the coming months the shared areas within the property and the Asons space will be fully refurbished to a high standard.’
A local solicitor who did not wish to be named told the Gazette: ‘They [Asons] have chosen to occupy the upper floors – I suspect as the ground floor may be more attractive to a third party and achieve a higher rent.’
The building is owned by Asons Estates Ltd and is leased to Asons Solicitors. The two companies are separate legal entities. According to public records, Asons Estates is owned by Haroon Akram, while Asons Solicitors is owned by Kamran Akram.
The £300,000 grant was intended to pay for refurbishment works but critics have pointed out that part of the work was completed before the grant was handed over.
Asons’ latest accounts report a dispute with the tax authorities also quantified at £300,000 and a loss of more than £1m for the year to May 2015. There is no evidence linking the £300,000 dispute referred to in the accounts with the same sum handed to Asons for the building development work.
The grant caused anger among opposition councillors and other law firms as it was signed off under the council’s emergency powers procedure. Council leader Cliff Morris, who signed off the grant, has denied repeated requests to resign and said an independent audit into the grant will be published to provide ‘full transperency’.
KPMG is carrying out the audit though the council has been unable to say when will it be completed.
The Gazette reported the controversy in November last year. Over the past few days interest in the grant has been fuelled by national newspaper reports in The Times and The Sun, which headlined its report 'Council slammed for giving personal injury lawyer firm £300,000 to buy perks for staff.'
The questions that Asons has not responded to were:
- Will you be collecting rent from the tenants of the building?
- Was the part of the building that will house the tenants refurbished using the £300,000 grant?
In addition, the Gazette has asked Bolton Council whether it knew that the building was going to be advertised for letting after the refurbishment.