Report to Sidmouth Town Council - meeting of 5 July 2004.

At the 5 July 2004 meeting of the Town Council one agenda item was the presentation of a report on the Town Meeting held in Sidmouth on 14 June. The report is reproduced below. If you find it a little dull, try reading my own report of the same meeting.

Since 14 June there seems to have been only slow progress on finding a way forward in organising the Festival after 2004. The 15 people who left their names with the Town Clerk following the meeting of 14 June, and who expressed an interest in participating in an EDDC discussion group on the future of the Festival, have yet to hear anything (as of 7 July). Officers within EDDC are (so we must assume) busy behind the scenes and we may be presented with a 'fait accompli' in due course.

Activity in the Town Hall seems to have been limited to preparing the notes of meeting and forwarding the list of 'interested persons' to EDDC. There is little sense of urgency. What is clear however is that the town council wants to be much more involved in what goes on at the festival in subsequent years - assuming there is an event worth calling a festival. The Vice Chairman of the Town Council (also at present the Leader of EDDC) Cllr. Ann Liverton is quoted as saying "This (town) council wants to be thoroughly involved in the structure of what is required. We require a lot more input on what is happening in our town."

There are probably two threads to this, apart from the obvious wish for more control - a feature of many people elected to public office. The first is that there are 'running battles' between EDDC and Sidmouth Town Council on several issues, notably in the area of planning policy and implementation and some feeling that the town council is being marginalised in decision making. The second is that for years some members of the town council (notably shopkeepers and their friends) have not welcomed the extra food and drink stalls 'imported' into Sidmouth during folk week. When I was on the council (1998/99) I can recall discussions about whether an ice cream stall should be allowed and if so what size, and where on the Ham, etc etc. It usually comes down to money.

Progress at EDDC is less clear because of commercial confidentiality - EDDC looks most unlikely to increase its grant for 2005 beyond the current level of around 60,000. Indeed it might find it difficult to do so even if councillors from Sidmouth wished it. The present level of support may be in doubt beyond 2005 because although in public EDDC councillors may back the festival, in private some of them would do anything to 'do down' Sidmouth if it meant more money for their own area, or even out of a sense of grievance that sometimes Sidmouth is seen as getting more than its fair share of district funding. This is a local issue going back decades, and independent of the festival and its development.

There is also the matter of the true benefit to the town and/or East Devon from hosting the festival probably being lower than EDDC officers have assumed. (This has been discussed in folk21 and folk22). One senior councillor has described the 6 million figure as 'plucked from the air'. If the 2005 festival is planned to be smaller than in 2004 there is a risk the grant might be cut even for 2005 - some local people would certainly question giving a large grant to a much smaller festival.

Amongst the many other important items discussed at the meeting on 5 July was the provision of a new St George flag to be flown outside the Town Council offices (where virtually no-one can see it). It was explained that the existing flag is no longer white in colour and had become frayed at the edges. It had been proposed that one be purchased via the Internet - a huge step for many of our councillors to comprehend. Councillor 'lunatic' Hughes (see elsewhere on this website for more details) raised the point of the postage that would be incurred - maybe all of a few pounds. There was much tut-tutting and discussion. Finally, it was proposed that the matter be left to a few councillors and the Town Clerk to resolve. Our town clerk accounts for the bulk of the 73,560 allocated to 'salaries and superannuation' out of the total town council budget of 164,000 per year - probably one reason she can afford to run a Porsche with a personalised number plate!

It is good to know that while the fate of the Sidmouth Festival languishes in the corridors of EDDC, the town clerk is dutifully ensuring that postage on a 19 flag will not become an excessive burden on the taxpayers.

Report of the Public Meeting called by Sidmouth Town Council to discuss the future of Sidmouth International (Folk) Festival    (as presented to Council on 5 July 2004)

The meeting was held at The Manor Pavilion, Sidmouth
on Monday 14 June 2004 at 7.00 p.m.

Town Councillors present…….

Councillor Reed (Chairman), Councillor Mrs Liverton (Vice Chairman)

Councillors: Ambrose, Brokenshire, Clark, Crouch, Cox, Hughes, Liverton McKenzie Edwards, Pascoe, Sullivan, Wale and Mrs Newth

Approximately 80 people attended the meeting, together with representatives from the Press and Local Radio

1. Welcome and Introduction by Chairman of the Council

The Chairman of the Council, Councillor Reed welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for attending, especially on such a lovely evening. He explained that the Town Council wished to hear their views on the important issue that the town had seriously to consider as to whether a festival continued in future years and the shape and form it should take.

Councillor Reed reported that a local survey has been conducted with the help of the Sidmouth Herald and some three hundred responses had been made. The response suggested by approximately two to one that a Festival in Sidmouth should continue.

Amongst some of the negative responses he was aware that these reflected the feeling that the Festival of recent years had outgrown the town.

Finally Councillor Reed explained that he and the Town Council were seeking guidance from those present in order to address the options given by East Devon District Council. These options were on the reverse of the agenda given to everyone on their arrival and are attached to this report. The Chairman concluded that he was not necessarily suggesting that this would be a template but would stimulate what he hoped would be a positive discussion.

2. Introduction of Panel by Chairman of the Council

Councillor Tony Reed (Chairman Sidmouth Town Council)

Councillor Ann Liverton (Vice Chairman Sidmouth Town Council)

Councillor Andrew Moulding (East Devon District Council Portfolio Holder Leisure and Amenities)

Derek Schofield (Former Arena Director and Author of recently published history of the Festival)

Bill Lankester (President Friends of Sidmouth Festival)

Peter Mason (Sidmouth International Festival Organisational Development Review Consultant)

3. Questions and Comments to the Panel

The first question referred to changes made at the Arena since 1994 which was answered by Derek Schofield. It was pointed out that whilst past issues were in some instances relevant, more benefit would be achieved if the meeting concentrated on how to progress the Festival for the future.

Questions then followed on the economic benefits to Sidmouth and indeed its surrounding areas. Figures ranging from one million to six million pounds were mentioned and it was considered likely that it would be somewhere in between. The benefits to local organisations which were then re-invested in the local economy were also mentioned. The unquantifiable benefits of the name Sidmouth being known around the world in marketing terms could not be assessed.

Several people commented that the Festival was not just about money the cultural and artistic merits must not be forgotten, with one member of the audience stating that the Sidmouth Festival was the nearest thing England had to an Eisteddfod.

The personal financial risks involved to the current organisers were pointed out and explained that this could not continue. East Devon District Council had allocated a grant of 60,000 for 2005 but the risk element was still there. Councillor Moulding considered that "other partners now needed to share that risk".

It was hoped by many in the audience that Peter Mason’s report commissioned by EDDC and the Arts Council could be published (even in an abridged format) and Councillor Moulding agreed that if the District Council received authority from Mrs Casey’s Music then he could see no problem in agreeing with this request.

The feeling of the meeting was that this year (2004) should be a celebration of fifty years and a time to reflect and then next year (2005) should be seen as the beginning of a new era for the Festival.

Derek Schofield made the point that care would be needed if consideration is given to any scaling down of the Festival since those aspects making a loss and, therefore, most at risk, might also be those of greatest cultural benefit (eg the children’s festival events)

Sidmouth Town Council would be reflecting upon the comments made and issues raised, at the next meeting of the Town Council to be held in early July and the Town Council’s observations would then be made known to East Devon District Council. Councillor Moulding agreed that the EDDC Working Party would meet in July in order to progress discussion for the 2005 Festival.

There being so many experienced and knowledgeable attendees to this meeting, it was suggested that "the experience be harnessed" and that those interested be asked to commit to attending an EDDC Working Party meeting and they were asked to give their contact details to the Town Clerk. (15 have been received)

At the closing of the meeting, the Chairman asked for a show of hands as to whether those in attendance wanted a Sidmouth Festival in (a) just the Arena (b) a fringe Festival or (c) the whole package. There was a resounding show of hands for (c) the whole package. There was no evidence shown from those in attendance at the meeting that they wished the Festival to cease.

The Meeting closed at 9.00 pm

The above report was formally presented to Sidmouth Town Council on 5 July 2004. You can read the exciting official report of that event - but maybe don't waste your time, it is in pdf and amidst verbiage.

next page

back to top of section

back to home page