The next time Croydon’s Labour-run council belly aches about grant cuts from central Government – after all, another 150-or-so council staff are expected to be made redundant in the coming 12 months under Tory “austerity” measures – just remind them of the South End Food Festival.
Tony Newman, Labour’s council leader, claimed yesterday that, “We absolutely came to the rescue”, of an event which had failed to find a commercial sponsor for 2015. And Croydon Council is coughing up several times more cash than Tesco did when the supermarket sponsored the same event as recently as 2013.
Croydon Council Tax-payers will be paying £7,500 towards the cost of staging the one-day event on June 28, the benefits of which to the wider community are hard to establish, while businesses in and around South End continue to close.
This council’s largesse comes on top of another chunk of public cash, £148,000, which is being paid to the organisers of a one-day cycle racing event staged in the town centre next week, as was exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon.
Austerity? Not at Croydon Town Hall when it comes to bread and circuses, it seems.
The South End Food Festival was first staged in 2012, organised by the South Croydon Business Association together with Grey Label, the favoured PR spinners for the Tories who used to run the council. It is not known how much Grey Label charged in agency fees for their role in the event. Part of their task was to find commercial sponsorship.
In that respect, they were not been very successful. In 2013, Tesco – having just opened their Express store in the former Swan and Sugarloaf pub, to the distress of every other independent shopkeeper in the area – paid just £2,000 for title sponsorship of the main stage at the South Croydon Food Festival. This was just one-third of the amount which Grey Label had budgeted to raise.
Last year, the Food Festival was sponsored by Brakes Food, but they have now closed down their Croydon-based business. A month ago, the organisers were claiming that the “South End Food Festival has two weeks to raise £20,000 in sponsorship or will be cancelled”, and appealed for donations, as if they were some sort of disaster charity.
The South Croydon Business Association is chaired by Linda Arthur, who runs Bar Txt, and the Festival is run by Peter Bagatti, who operates the eponymous restaurant on South End. They claim that the 2014 Festival attracted 11,000 visitors to boost local bars and restaurants, though it is difficult to verify that figure independently.
The many businesses in the area which don’t offer food or all-day drinking have in the past questioned whether Grey Label’s “Restaurant Quarter” rebranding exercise offered any benefit to them or value to the broader community.
“Everybody in the street is really happy already,” Arthur told a Redhill-based website on the news that the council was using public money to bail-out her organisation’s event. Although when Inside Croydon contacted another local community group, they expressed surprise that the event was going ahead at all.
According to Tony Newman, councillors “weren’t prepared to see the event cancelled”. Yet councillors spoken to by Inside Croydon were unaware of any discussions about the Food Festival whatsoever.
Newman said: “We absolutely came to the rescue. It is a fantastically successful event and everything we want to see about Croydon.”
Surely, if that were the case, then commercial sponsors would be fighting among themselves to be associated with it?
And why is Croydon Council paying nearly four times as much to the event as Tesco did just two years ago? Where is the money from this salvage fund going?
Previous enquiries from Inside Croydon to SCBA have been ignored by Arthur. As SCBA is a private body, it is not subject to the scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act – so once they receive the thousands of pounds of public cash, there will be no way of the public scrutinising how it is to be spent.
And now, although Arthur claimed just a few weeks ago that the event needed £20,000, the SCBA chairwoman has her begging bowl out again, claiming that they need a further £2,500 on top of the council’s bail-out. “The community is very supportive,” she claimed.
But Charlotte Davies, the chair of the South Croydon Community Association which represents residents as well as businesses and other organisations in the area, seemed less enthusiastic. “Is it still going ahead?” she said.
“What would be of greater, longer-term benefit to more people would be if they would just close down the street say every Sunday to build up the area’s trade long-term. That would be a worthwhile investment which would yield a return every week,” Davies said.
MAY 30 UPDATE: We have amended the figure of the council funding, to reflect information from a Town Hall source. It is noteworthy that a Redhill-based website has also altered the figure it is reporting that the council is contributing, from £20,000. We sought a comment from the council press office, but none of its six staff were available today.
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