Transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, crunches some numbers and finds that Croydon Council forked out £148,000 for one night’s cycle racing in the town centre and has absolutely no idea whether they got value for money
Here’s a combination of words you will never have seen published on Inside Croydon before: Boris Johnson is right.
The Mayor of London today admitted that he had ordered that London should make an 11th-hour withdrawal from its bid to stage the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2017 – and save our city at least £35 million.
That was the right thing to do.
It’s a pity that the part-time Tory Mayor wasn’t sufficiently on top of his London brief to curtail City Hall’s part in the bidding process until the point when the contract was about to be signed; doubtless, the work that went into preparing the bid and negotiating with the French organisers will be another “Cost of Boris” which London’s Council Tax-payers will end up underwriting long after he has left the post.
London should stage future major sports events, including the Tour – indeed, after this year’s Rugby World Cup, in 2016 London hosts European swimming champs and world track cycling championships, and in 2017 we will be the host city for the third biggest global sporting event, the 10-day-long athletics world championships.
But the price being demanded by the French cycle race organisers for 2017 was too high, and it would have meant that around £6 million ear-marked for the city’s long-term cycling infrastructure would have had to be diverted from making our roads a safer, better place for cycling.
It’s a pity that Croydon Council did not do a similar cost-benefit analysis of the town centre cycling race staged here during the summer. Because Inside Croydon has obtained a confidential Town Hall document which shows that the council has absolutely no idea what they got in return for paying the event organisers £148,000 to stage their race on our streets.
“I’m sure it was all very good and great fun for one evening,” a Croydon-based member of the London Cycling Campaign told Inside Croydon. “But it is not going to make any difference to my daily commute on the 364 other days of the year, it’s not going to make my ride to work any safer, it’s not going to bring back the cycle lanes along South End that they have removed.”
More troubling was the response of a Croydon Council official in the housing department when we told them of the amount of money being spent on one night of cycling. “For that money, we could repair and bring maybe 10 homes back into use.
“That’s a roof over the heads of 10 families, at least 40, maybe even 50, all taken off the housing waiting list. We’re crying out for more council homes, and we’re constantly being told that there’s no money available because of the cuts. So what happened to the cuts in this case?”
It was in June that elected councillors on the Scrutiny Committee asked for some measure of the impact and benefits of the cycling event. Three months later, council officials finally delivered a paper last week full of woolly estimates and guess-work, much of it sourced from the very people that the council had paid to stage the event, the organisers, Sweetspot Event Group.
According to the report submitted to the Scrutiny Committee, “Live spectators – The race organisers have estimated 12,500 spectators watched the Men’s Tour series and Women’s Matrix Fitness Grand prix race in Croydon.”
Crowd estimates for large events are usually sought from the Metropolitan Police. No figures have been provided from the police in this report. That alone should raise suspicions about the reliability of the organisers’ estimates.
On the night of the races, back in June, Inside Croydon‘s staff toured the one-mile circuit and found that for much of the route, the crowd was oh, around … zero deep. Only near the start and finish area, where the corporate hospitality was being laid on for various VIPs and sponsors’ representatives, was there a clutch of people. But even there, it was only a few hundred.
The report continues: “TV highlights – The highlights of the races were broadcast on ITV4 on the evening after the race as an hour long [sic] programme. The highlight shows were also available to stream online through ITV.com, with additional ‘catch up’ service through ITV Player.
“TV highlights included a feature item on Croydon the place, interview with the Leader of the Council…” that will be Tony Newman… “…as well as detailed coverage of the racing.
“274,500 viewers watched the Croydon ITV 4 highlights and a further 42,000 watched the repeat. These figures do not include online audiences streaming highlights or those viewing via ‘catch up’.”
So Croydon Council Tax-payers have forked out £148,000 to stage a cycle race that would get shown on a channel that few people watch frequently (today’s big offering on ITV4? Tonga v Namibia in the Rugby World Cup), with a highlights package transmitted so late on a midweek evening that most sensible people would long ago have gone to bed. And all just so that council leader Tony Newman could get on the telly.
You can tell that the race organisers are masters of bullshit when the next stat that they trot out mentions the word “reach” in the context of an international television audience.
“The highlights programme was also screened across 60 territories worldwide with total potential TV reach of just under 94 million.” What that means is that the programme was given away at no charge to fill the schedules of penurious broadcasters, say in Azerbaijan or Madagascar, and some poor sod in the race organisers’ office has had to trawl the interweb to add up their countries’ total populations. It is an utterly vacuous and worthless piece of information.
And so the report goes on… According to the race organisers, they had a website which over the course of the five-week series had 100,000 UVs – that works out at fewer than 3,000 unique visitors per day. That’s a national audience, logging on for the other races in the series, yet the readership barely matches the number of visitors that this website enjoys most days of the week. The site editor assures me that Tony Newman’s never offered him £148,000 to blow smoke up his arse.
The event organisers then recite a (short) list of specialist cycling media who dutifully reported events to their readerships. Oh, and the event also got some coverage from the Sadvertiser and Croydon Guardian. The race was so low rent, in the overall scheme of things in competitive cycling, that it merited not a single line of copy in any national newspaper or website. Not that the race organisers bother to mention that.
So underwhelming was the whole offer that when the organisers approached Croydon’s schools to ask them to provide “official race mascots”, they were left three short of the 10 they wanted.
“Sweetspot Event Group, the overall race organiser, is undertaking a full and independent economic impact assessment of the event,” the council report states, clearly failing to understand how “a full and independent” assessment of the event can possibly be conducted by the very people who have most to gain from its staging.
But just as Boris Johnson was right to cancel London’s bid for the Tour de France, so Croydon would be right to ensure that the cycle racing should be staged in the town centre future years.
It is just that Council Tax-payers ought not to be paying for it.
Indeed, bring other mass sports events to the streets of central Croydon and other parts of the borough – why not a series of 5km road races and one-mile fun runs for kids, staged by the people behind ParkRun? Or street sprints over 60 metres along North End, to help Croydon Harriers identify and recruit the next Martyn Rooney or Donna Fraser?
But if event organisers want to use Croydon’s roads, then they ought to be paying the people of Croydon for the privilege. Or maybe the council’s head of planning, Jo Negrini, should be ensuring that the people likely to benefit most from the “promotion” of Croydon as a shopping destination or a place to live – the multi-billion developers behind the Hammersfield shopping mall, or the property speculators developing thousands of under-sized flats in the centre of town – should be dipping into their generous promotional budgets to pay these bills.
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