11th hour U-turn on Morecambe festivals plan

Last year's Tutti Frutti festival in Morecambe.
Last year's Tutti Frutti festival in Morecambe.

A controversial plan to change how Morecambe festivals are funded has been thrown out at a heated town council meeting.

Morecambe town councillors agreed an alternative proposal to set up an all-party festivals working group and create a four-year programme of town festivals.

Councillor Darren Clifford suggested the idea for the group to include councillors, promoters, members of the public and Morecambe traders, to ensure the council worked “collaboratively” on Morecambe’s festivals season.

It was voted through 14 to 6, with one abstention.

A row had initially broken out after the town council festivals sub-committee originally suggested scrapping the current method of inviting event organisers to bid for grants each year.

Instead, the council would choose three festivals to commission – or pay for – in 2015 through a tendering process.

Promoters were against the plans.

David Brayshaw, chairman of the Morecambe Carnival committee, said: “It will, in our opinion, cause immeasurable damage to the 2015 Morecambe event calendar and will lead to a season of few events and fewer visitor numbers.”

Many of the town’s festivals promoters packed into the public gallery at Morecambe Town Hall for the debate.

They included representatives from the Morecambe Carnival, the Catch the Wind kite festival, the Tutti Frutti 1950s event, the Promenade Concert Orchestra series, the Steampunk festival and the Nice ‘n’ Sleazy punk festival.

The original proposal was heavily criticised at the meeting by several councillors.

John Bates called it “a catastrophic change” and Evelyn Archer said: “We need to listen to the people of this town.”

But Councillor Tricia Heath, town council vice-chairman, defended the plans, saying: “Every year we get slagged off in the press (over festivals funding). People are obviously not happy with the (current) system.

“Some of these festivals have been given funding for 10 years. We need to get some new ones going through the books.

“I know festivals are very important to people. But every year there’s a bunfight. Moving on is what we’re trying to do. We want to put festivals out to tender, the same thing Lancaster City Council does. No actual festivals have been decided yet. Local organisers are not being stopped from joining in. We want to add to good festivals like the kite festival and think outside the box. We need to change the process.”

Councillor Roger Dennison agreed with Councillor Heath.

He said: “We’re trying to get more people to Morecambe which benefits all the businesses and not just the individual event promoters. Some of these councillors are like the Uruguayan football team, they’re playing the man not the ball.”

Coun Dennison was then booed from the public gallery when he said: “Some festival promoters may benefit financially from the old system.”

Coun Clifford said: “So we get slagged off in the press? Let’s grow up and get on with it. This is a proposal for external organisations to come into the town and take money out of it. It is vindictiveness dressed up as reform and an anti-Morecambe policy. We can do better than this.”

The vote was taken and the decision greeted with loud applause from the public gallery.

After the vote, Mr Brayshaw said: “I’m ecstatic.

“It was everything we wanted and the stupid idea was thrown out. The amendment is a way forward. It also means event promoters will work together and we can put festivals on cheaper.”

Sue Boswell, Tutti Frutti organiser, said: “I would like to thank the councillors who listened to us. Roger Dennison was implying there is money to be made (by promoters) and that’s not the case. I don’t know where he’s got that from. Tricia Heath talked about festivals that have been funded for 10 years. If those festivals were floundering I could understand them wanting to move on. But these festivals are doing well.”

Ivan Harrison, promoter of the Nice ‘n’ Sleazy festival, said: “I still feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back after hearing what some of those councillors said about us. The actual proposal (by Coun Clifford) is a good idea. But all this backbiting has got to stop. It’s not done us any good as a town.”

The vote was as follows:

VOTING FOR: Councillors Archer, Ball, Bates, Baxter, Brown, Clifford, Davies, Hanson, Metcalfe, Ogden, Pattison, Spelling, Wade, Whittaker

VOTING AGAINST: Councillors Ashworth, Burns, Day, Dennison, Heath, Lomax

ABSTAINED: Councillor Anderson

The 2015 festivals budget was set at £55,200.