Yet more money from Sidmouth Town Council for FolkWeek - but will it be used wisely?
How much more money will the residents of Sidmouth be forced to pay towards projects that benefit primarily only a few hoteliers and traders - many of whom are not based in Sidmouth?
During a time of 'economic restraint' the budget of Sidmouth Town Council has increased from £131,969 in 2003/04 to £333,000 in 2012/13. This includes a basic £20,000 per year for FolkWeek, increased to £25,000 for 2012.
Draft page - comments welcome! Last modified 18 April 2012
Press coverage from December 2009 and early 2010 suggested that £20,000 was to be given to FolkWeek but spread over 5 years - in fact it was £20,000 for each of the five years. Despite an era of supposed austerity and severe cuts in local services (including Devon County Council's redundancy programme for front line staff and reductions in highways maintenance) not only has Sidmouth Town Council agreed to give yet more money to FolkWeek in 2012, the festival announced on its website that 2011 ticket prices were retained for 2012. Also, they highlighted that the booking fee had been abolished.
Whilst District and County councils have to balance their books to meet central government spending limits, even the larger town councils seem to have no restraints placed on them. Maybe this should change?
|Whilst the taxpayers of Sidmouth have been forced to give £5000 to support a series of dance events that are of significant benefit to only a handful of local people, all attendees have seen their ticket prices decrease in real terms by around 10%.|
A fairer method of adjusting the finances might have been for the festival to increase all ticket prices by 10%. Such an increase could have easily been afforded by most festival attendees and would have raised maybe £20,000. Many attendees spend £1000 on their 'FolkWeek' and a 10% increase in a £170 ticket price would have added only £17 or less than 2% of the overall weekly cost.
There are other concerns about the extra £5000 nodded through by Sidmouth Town Council for 2012: it was supposedly for supporting social dance at the new Stowford Rise venue but much of it seems destined for unnecessary advertising and/or self-promotion.
Several years ago Sidmouth FolkWeek made claims about the economic benefit the festival brought the town and local area - the figure of £1.5 million or £1.8 million has never to my knowledge been properly analysed. Indeed the analysis (if any) behind the claim may be as suspect as that used in many other claims for the benefits of intra-national tourism.
A similarly suspect claim was produced by Mendip District Council in 2008 - headlined as "Glastonbury Festival boosts local economy to the tune of £73 million'. This will be analysed more fully later (when I have time). The number of festival goers was given as 177,500 and the total of £73 million was claimed to be "poured into the local economy". The figure includes all the tax on transport fuel used to get to and from the event, all alcohol tax and expenditure benefiting businesses that contributed little or nothing to the local economy. It therefore seems as absurd as were the claims for the Sidmouth International Festival back in 2003/2004.
All this is a far cry from a few years ago when I urged Sidmouth Town Council to spend less on Britain in Bloom and more on FolkWeek. Yet Councillor Reed denounced the idea - saying that Sidmouth Town Council could not risk substantial funds for such a speculative venture as reviving the Folk Festival.
"For the learned doctor to suggest that this council should have risked public money as a provider of up-front funds portrays a naive ignorance which is surprising coming from an arch critic of how local authorities manage their finances."
The council's £5,000 grant was a "substantial sum for an event that only involves one week of the year."
Later of course, Councillor Reed became the 'President' of FolkWeek - lauded and applauded by his fellow councillors, town centre traders and by the Festival Director John Braithwaite. This involved some rewriting of festival history.
In summary, seven years ago Sidmouth Town Council begrudgingly gave £5000 to support the embryonic FolkWeek.
It is now lavishing money on FolkWeek to the tune of £25,000 a year - £5000 of which in 2012 is for evening social dances that are aimed primarily at expert dancers. Arguably, these events simply do not need supporting over and above the venue costs, if at all. They hardly need 'promoting' over and above what will happen anyway and at no cost to Sidmouth taxpayers.
How times change!
Maybe it is time for the entire expenditure of Sidmouth Town Council to be reviewed?
As I said back in 2005:
"Once the new folk festival becomes self-financing, if indeed it does, perhaps we can look forward to a reduction in council tax."
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