Districtís festival budgets could be slashed.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

SCALING back on funding for the district's main festivals, including Wake the Giant, Footsepts in the Forest, and City of Merchants, is now a possibility following a surprise decision taken at the council's Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism (ERT) meeting.

At this month's meeting, held in Newry, members changed the preferred budget option they had already agreed upon at a workshop last month, which could now mean cutting the funding to the Giant Adventures events by 12 percent.

Councillors were presented with three different scenarios at the ERT meeting during a debate on approval for the criteria and budget allocation for the Open Funding Call for the 2018/2019 tourism events programme.

Scenario One proposed removing approximately eight per cent from all of the events in the main tourism events programme, which might entail some events 'become unfeasible and could not go ahead', including, Halloween and Christmas Switch-ons.

The choice for Scenario Two, removing around 12 percent, from the Giant Adventures, would mean, reducing Wake the Giant from £100,000 to £87,000; Footseps in the Forest, £85,000 to £74,000; City of Merchants, £100,000 to £87,000, and the Festival of Flight being cut from £140,000 to £122,000.

There would also be a reduction from £128,000 to £112,000 for the proposed Guardians of the Mournes Festival.

In the report presented to councillors, it was highlighted that if this Scenario was chosen 'council officers will review the feasibility of delivering the Giant Adventures series of events to a similar scale as the 2017/18 financial year'.

Details of Scenario Three include, the council's budget for assisting major and minor events and community festivals is £78,000 under Voluntary Contributions (VC), and an increase in proposed major events from £105,000 to £135,000 plus the current VC budget of £78,000 'would mean an overall events funding pot of £213,000 that could be delivered by professional event organisers or via community organisations'.

Members learned that the £35,000 increase could be achieved by making adjustments to the Giant Adventures, 'which could have minimal impact on the ability to deliver'.

Scenario Three was the preferred option chosen by councillors at a workshop held on 30 November to discuss the open funding call and budget criteria.

ERT Chairman, Pete Byrne (SDLP) said he was not comfortable grouping together council- led events at the cost of community driven events.

"It feels like we are going to slowly choke out the community-led events," he said, adding that many community festivals had been running for 15 to 20 years and had been "extremely successful."

Sinn Fein's Willie Clarke said festivals like the Blues on the Bay and Fiddlers' Green showed great returns for a small amount from the council. He believed they should be looking for corporate funding for community and council events to "lessen the burden on ratepayers."

It was important to attract visitors from outside the area, and from outside Ireland, said Mr Clarke, who stressed that advertising and marketing was critical, and proposed Scenario Three.

SDLP member Michael Carr believed they got a better return by supporting community festivals. He said he remained unconvinced by the third option and proposed Scenario Two.

Seconding Mr Clarke's proposal, Councillor Glyn Hanna (DUP) called for more new festivals and the opportunity for them to be created but added that there was nothing wrong with the current festivals.

Councillor Byrne said he had an issue with the criteria of the Open Funding Call and that the council needed to be working hand in hand with community groups.

SDLP member Declan McAteer thought that some of the detail of the Open Funding Call was "a bit draconian and not the right language to be using to encourage people to come here."

He told the meeting that some community events organisers felt the council were "trying to get rid of them and that can be deemed to be insulting even if it is not meant to be."

He thought Scenario two might be "fair enough." ERT Director, Marie Ward said that council officers found it "tight enough to run events." Mr Byrne felt that the council was "growing council festivals more than community festivals" and that they should not be growing some events exponentially while "others are stagnating."

Mr Byrne pointed out that funding for the Pride Festival had been cut by 58 percent over three years while council events were being supported.

"This is about being equitable for everyone," he declared. "There is too much focus on council-led events." Ms Ward said it was not all about return on finances but "about reputation" and stressed that council officers had been actively working with community groups as they appreciated the value of their events for the tourism industry.

Members then voted on Councillor Clarke's proposal to choose Scenario Three, which was defeated by six votes to four. Mr Carr's proposal was then taken and it was passed by seven votes to four.

Sinn Fein's Charlie Casey said there would probably be yet another discussion on the matter at the January meeting of the council.


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