Town Council Cut Festival Grant

Thursday, 22nd May 2008

Festival board members who attended yesterday evening's meeting of Hebden Royd Town Council were saddened and disappointed by the council decision to reduce the grant from £6000 to £5000.

This was the first meeting chaired by our new mayor, Cllr Susan Press and started off in a light-hearted fashion as members referred to “Comrade Chair“.

The good nature did not last. Very soon, Cllr Fekri was angrily attacking the Chair for her "unacceptable" attack on the new ”Community Funding Committee“.

The Town Council have this year devised a new system for allocating grants. It fell upon the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival to be the first group to have to go through the new process with the Community Funding Committee. Rebecca Yorke, speaking on behalf of the the Festival Board, said that it had ”not been a comfortable experience“. Cllr Joanna Beacroft Mitchell who had chaired the new committee conceded that elements of the session were negative.

A discussion took place about whether the council was obliged to accept the recommendations of the new committee. "What is the point of having such a committee if the council isn’t going to accept its recommendations?" argued Cllr Bampton-Smith. Cllr Groves replied that the Council shouldn’t accept the committee’s recommendations carte blanche, and that given inflation maybe the recommendation should be to increase the grant.

The motion to accept the committee’s recommendation to reduce the Festival grant was put forward by Cllrs Bampton Smith and Cllr Joanna Beacroft Mitchell. In the discussion which followed, there seemed to be agreement that the new Committee might not have yet got it right, and the Council would have to review and monitor closely how it worked.

However, Cllr Joanna Beacroft Mitchell, chair of the new committee and a proposer of the motion showed her lack of knowledge of her brief by saying ”there are no events in Mytholmroyd“ in this year's Festival. In fact, the Festival kicks off its full and varied programme in Mytholmroyd at the new Calder High Theatre with Baghdad Lullabies. And there are other events in Mytholmroyd, as described both in the programme and in the letter from Graham Packham (Festival Chair) sent to each of the councillors prior to yesterday evening's meeting.

Cllr Dave Young and Cllr Rev James Allison tried to amend this recommendation so that the Festival would still receive the same amount of funding as last year, both wishing to encourage negotiations about the future in the coming months. Cllrs Bampton-Smith, (Joanna) Beacroft-Mitchell, (John) Beacroft-Mitchell and Fekri argued strongly against the amendment which was defeated.

In his letter to the Councillors, Graham Packham (Festival Chair) wrote ”Regarding our overall budget, we would like to stress the value in kind that is brought to the Festival through our volunteers and Board members. Our Arts Festival has been punching well above its weight for some years. Those who are experienced in the national arts scene are amazed that we produce a Festival of such quality with only one paid worker (who is paid for one day per week and works well beyond those hours.)

“A lot of people visit the Upper Calder Valley throughout the year because it has a high profile arts festival. Having such a festival says something about the area. It helps to identify it in potential visitors’ minds as a place worth visiting, because a place with a good arts festival is likely to have a lot of other arty and quirky things going on throughout the year. As with the Pace Egg Play, the World Dock Pudding Championship and the recently established Ted Hughes Festival, it is part of what identifies us to the outside world.

“We believe that the Festival is an important part of the rich fabric of the Upper Calder Valley. We believe that it adds to the social and economic well-being of the area, not just in terms of the two weeks in July, and the feel good factor it generates, but throughout the year in subtle, difficult to quantify ways. ”

Festival website

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