COLCHESTER Council's sole representative on the Firstsite board says chairman Dr Noorzaman Rashid had to stand down amid ongoing questions into his link with a firm which was paid more than £100,000 by the gallery. 

Dr Rashid has left the Lewis Gardens gallery's leadership team with immediate effect despite strongly claiming he never received any financial reward from HR company Friary West Limited, of which he is a director.

Two other board members - Robert Surman, a trustee since September 2015, and Helen Organ - have also resigned.

Alongside Dr Rashid, Mr Surman is also a director of Friary West while Mrs Organ's departure is entirely unrelated to the current investigation.

Tim Young, Colchester Council's culture boss and Firstsite trustee, said: “There is no question this is the right course of action.

“It is now right and proper that an investigation takes place and that investigation has the full backing of Colchester Council.”

Firstsite bosses say Dr Rashid - who was appointed to the board in July 15, 2015 and subsequently took up his a directorship with Friary West in January 2016 - took the step himself because of ongoing questions over his links to the Maldon-based firm. 

His position was declared in the Board of Trustees’ Register of Interests, and he has stateed he has never received a financial reward for his work for the company.

As reported by the Gazette last month, in 2015/16 the gallery paid Friary West £92,202.

The cost was reduced last year, to £18,087.

The gallery no longer uses the firm and HR admin now costs less than £2,000-a-year. 

When questioned on the work with the firm, current gallery director Sally Shaw also pointed out the company was appointed by a previous director. 

As part of the charity's annual accounts, ending March 2017, the report states: "During the year the charity obtained human resource (HR) services from Friary West Limited, a company with common directors.

"The total cost of services amounted to 18,087 (2016 : 92,202). At the year end the charity owed 108 (2016 : 1,044).

"The transactions were conducted on an arms length basis."

As a result of the probe relating to Dr Rashid’s links with Friary West, Firstsite has asked auditors to "examine all of its transactions with Friary West", and will also "undertake a review of its board procedures".

A spokesperson for Firstsite said: "The accounts filed by Friary West Limited at Companies House do not show any payments made to Dr Rashid.

"However, because of ongoing questions about Dr Rashid and Friary West, Firstsite has instructed auditors to examine all of its transactions with the company.

"It will also undertake a review of its board policies and procedures."

Mr Surman, a Firstsite trustee since September 2015, has also resigned, having taken up a directorship at  Friary West Limited at the same time as Dr Rashid. 

Mr Surman has also stated he has received no financial reward for his work for Friary West.

The Gazette attempted to contact Dr Rashid through Friary West yesterday, but no response was received.