European Capital of Culture bid is passed by Cabinet, but I did not support it

Being the lone voice in a Cabinet is sometimes difficult, but when you cannot support an item you need to make sure your voice is heard and standby those views. The case in question is the European Capital of Culture bid (ECoC). My previous post on this issue is HERE.

Prior to today’s meeting, there was enough concern about the original decision by Cabinet. This resulted in the decision being ‘called-in’ by scrutiny who felt the process getting to the Cabinet decision was flawed. As Scrutiny felt there was a ‘flaw’ in the process of the decision – and as per the Constitution – sent the decision back to Cabinet for further consideration, and to consider if it made the right decision in the first place. For those who do not want to read on, the Cabinet voted 8-1 in favour of the bid (I voted against it). For those who want to know why, please read on.

I believe the process of getting to the shortlist phase is flawed for many of the same reasons as Scrutiny. Originally, the amount to get to the shortlist phase, was £536k, but now, on ‘relooking’ at the amount, this is now £336k. However, whilst this money is already in a budget (£60m) of EU match-funding, the costs most people seem to be missing is the estimated £10m that Cornwall Council will need to commit for this bid to work. This is not in the Council’s budget plan, and there is no clear way how this could be funded.

There is one thing of using existing budgets for something, but how do you square it when you really need a lot more for this to work. At today’s Cabinet meeting I commented how projects like the ECoC will find the money. Yet, corporately, money cannot be found for vital services in Cornwall. In reference to my point today, I talked about Post-16 transport funding.  Whilst this is a discretionary service of the Council, and it is important to note, the Council receives no support from Government to pay for it; even though they have made it mandatory for young people to stay in education (or training) till 18 years old.

If I had £10m, I could fund Post-16 transport for around eight-years. This is just one case of how money could be spent rather than on this bid. My point is we must fund for the most vulnerable and concentrate on our key services as highlighted in my previous blog.

Much has been made of this is a Cornwall-wide bid and not just Truro. Yet, Truro City Council was not really consulted prior to the bid paperwork going public. Furthermore, the City Council has only supported the ECoC bid by a narrow margin of 9-8. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but a democratic decision nonetheless.

A puzzling question that needs to be answered is how in reality will a Cornwall-wide bid work? Will it just concentrate on the existing sites like Eden and other large tourist attractions? If so, how will those who do not have a site like this near to them feel the ‘benefit’ of the ECOC? If commercial businesses are to benefit, it is a must they have to contribute, rather than the taxpayer footing the bill.

If town and villages are to be involved why haven’t they been asked?  Will it be left to the town and parish councils to find funding? A of example on costs is Helston Town Council made a decision not to have the Man Engine due to the costs of this one day event. If it is Cornwall-wide, then serious consideration needs to be made how these town and parish council will fund it, or will it be only the ones with the precepts large enough to contribute?

Another point I made today was on political support for the ECoC. Cabinet is made up of two group/party, Independent and Lib Dem. Yet the Council is made up of eight groups/party/standalone. I made an amendment for this decision to be made by full council as all 123 members can have a say, especially on the commitment of further funding like the £10m. This was not supported, but I am hopeful when there is money assigned, this can be debated via the capital programme which has to come to full council at a later date. A long-winded route to a simple debate on a yes/no option on the bid.

It is should be noted, the bid rule makes it clear any bid needs to be grassroots and supported from there. No reference has been made of this, or asked the public about their views.

In short, I voted against this because the bid is flawed on the timeline needed, monies could be spent on the most vulnerable, and there is not full political support for the ECoC. Not to mention post Brexit, there is little chance of winning the bid. As I said before, I was the lone voice, and the other eight members of Cabinet voted in favour for a bid and the £336k to proceed.



Cornwall Council’s City of Culture bid is under further scrutiny

This Friday, the Monitoring Officer (top legal bod) has sent an email to all Cornwall Councillors informing them that the decision made by Cornwall Council’s Cabinet on allocating £536k to the EU Capital of Culture bid has been ‘called in’ as follows:

I am writing to formally advise you that I have agreed to the Request For Call-In in respect of the Cabinet decision regarding the EU Capital of Culture Bid on 25 January.

The Grounds for call-in were that:

  • That there has been inadequate consultation with stakeholders prior to the decision being made; and
  • That there was inadequate evidence on which to base a decision and that not all relevant matters were taken into account.

It is anticipated that the Call-in will be considered at the Scrutiny Management Committee which is already scheduled for 14 February.

This Call-in power is one all Councillors can exercise if they disagree with a decision. This power is not lightly used, and therefore, this is a serious challenge to the decision. Any Call-in has to have strong ground, which also have to meet certain legal requirements.

The points of the Call-in will be discussed at the Scrutiny Management Committee who will examine all the points surrounding this decision. From this, the committee can recommend either to uphold the original decision or to vary it in some way. If there is a change it will be referred back to Cabinet with a recommendation which the Cabinet can ignore or accept. If no change, the original decision is acted upon. I can imagine this committee meeting will be one of the most well attended…

This Call-in puts the short timescale for the Capital of Culture bid under even more pressure, as nothing official can happen with the bid until such times as the Cabinet has dealt with the Call-in.

My views on the bid are exactly the same as when I voted against the recommendation at the last Cabinet HERE.

£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.