£536k punt on bidding for European City of Culture is like betting on a three-legged donkey at the Grand National

ECOCToday, at Cornwall Council’s packed Cabinet agenda was an item named European Capital of Culture.This was a request for £536k to be assigned to a bid for Capital Culture of the year in 2023. Basically, this money would be used to work up a bid in a competitive process in a winner takes all prize. There really is no prize for second place apart from being a few hundred-thousand lighter in the bank balance.

The deadline for submission is nine-months away which leaves little real-time for a comprehensive winning bid. Whereas the others in the competition like Dundee have had over a year to date be working on their bid. In fact, the average ECOC bid takes two to three years (as highlighted the ECOC application guidance) and Cornwall will have less than 9 months from start to finish. Not good odds to wager over £536k on. The report also highlights:

“Bidding for ECoC is complex and requires a significant budget. Financial support will be required to support the bidding process. Based on intelligence from other bids and an officer assessment of the resource required to deliver a credible bid by October 2017 it is calculated that a budget of approximately £536,000 will be required. This will be spent on cultural activity which will be linked to a large-scale community mobilisation effort, PR and marketing, a creative director and bid team. This is considered a modest budget for a bid to be ECoC”.

In an ideal world, this sort of thing might be rather nice, but I put this on the nice-to-do list, rather than being strategically important to do. I say this because the Council for the last several years has been cutting and reducing services you and I receive because of the budgetary pressures the Council face from the cuts in funding and increased demand for services. But despite these pressures, a cool £536k can be found for working up this bid, or what is in reality, one massive punt. My view is we should be concentrating on our core business, rather than chasing ego-badges like this.

However, if the £536k is not bad enough, then wait for this. If the bid is actually successful, then the Council will be required to contribute to at least £10m to make the whole project work. Yes £10m, probably more. With all the pressures we are already we are facing, this money would have to be found from existing budgets, or borrowed. As there is nothing in the current four-year budget plan.

For me, this £10m (and the £536k) could be spent far better on the most vulnerable, where it would have far greater and long-term positive benefits, or protecting libraries and other key service that are under pressure rather than a grand title of ‘Culture Capital’.

The programme title is European Capital of Culture, yet for some reason this is being sold as a Truro-Cornwall bid. My belief it is being sold as a Truro-Cornwall bid is to appease those who think funding is Truro-centric. If it was to be Cornwall wide, then the cost of putting this on would spiral. I heard from a member of the City Council that Truro City Council knew nothing of this bid up to a few days ago. Not a great start really is it?

In the report, it claims “It is reasonable to assume that the economic
impact of winning the competition could be circa £100m over the course of the year”. Yet who benefits from this? The tax payer doesn’t, as the only way the Council could recoup its costs if it received income from business rates from newly created businesses as a direct result of the successful bid.

In trying to convince the Cabinet today, there was a two page list of people saying how wonderful this would be. Yet, these people from well-known organisation have not committed any cash to this. We can all say how wonderful something is if you are not paying for it.

I was the lone voice in the Cabinet today. I could not support this bid as it is flawed from the very start and has next very little chance of winning. This bid is a waste of £536k and I believe this money could be spent on more vital service areas.

I voted against this. And I am glad I did.

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