Tony Newman’s Labour council has broken one of its 2014 manifesto commitments, after diverting £160,000 of public money from its intended free annual music festival to pay towards private business Boozepark’s opening shindig next month.
The council-run Ambition Festival was first staged in the summer of 2015, with a series of free concerts and arts events around the town centre. Some plans were announced earlier this year by the council that the 2016 Ambition Festival would be staged at Boozepark, the food and bar enterprise being constructed from shipping containers alongside East Croydon Station.
But as Boozepark’s planned opening date slipped from “Summer 2016” to, eventually, the weekend before Bonfire Night, so the public cash earmarked for a free festival for the Croydon public got swallowed up. Tickets for the first day of Boozepark’s opening weekend cost up to £30 each, although it seems highly likely that Newman and his mates will score a few freebies.
Boxpark only agreed to move to Croydon after the council loaned it £3 million of public money.
This runs against the promises made by Newman in Labour’s 2014 election manifesto: “We will work with community groups, the voluntary sector and investors to bring back a summer festival to Croydon.”
A Town Hall spokesman has said, “We’ve always said we were partnering with Boxpark to put on a town centre festival this year. Ambition proved there was a huge appetite for a festival, but the aim was to move away from the council doing the staging and organising itself,” a marked change from what the council was saying just six months ago.
It is also something which could yet create some political embarrassment for Newman, since the council chose to use a visit from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to “announce” the subsidised private company’s promotional launch.
As a sop to fulfilling the council’s previous promises of a free festival, the Town Hall has “asked Boxpark to host a series of free, family events later this year”, the council propaganda department has stated.
Newman, for his part, has described the Boozepark launch event as “the child of Ambition”.
“The bastard child more like,” one disgruntled Katharine Street figure told Inside Croydon over the weekend. “Where is the legitimacy of this use of large amounts of public money on a private company event, instead on the promised public festival?
“The next local elections are less than two years away, and Newman’s Labour is in serious danger of failing to deliver on any of its ‘ambitious’ cultural promises. Instead, we have a Labour council – a Labour council – squandering public money on promoting a single private business, with no thought for the dozens of loyal, local businesses elsewhere in the borough which are receiving no where near the £3 million-plus of council support.”
The previous Tory-run council had closed, axed or flogged off a wide range of cultural activities and venues in the borough in the years leading up to the 2014 local elections.
The Warehouse Theatre had its council grant cut, forcing its closure. The David Lean Cinema was shut. The annual summer Mela in Lloyd Park was axed. Part of the Riesco Collection of historic porcelain was flogged off – at millions of pounds below its market value – seeing the Museum of Croydon stripped of its national accredited status and Croydon become a pariah among arts funding organisations.
Labour put reviving Croydon’s cultural scene at the core of its attempts to revive the borough’s down-at-heel reputation, but after more than two years, they have made little impact.
Doubts have been raised about the successful delivery of a £30 million refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, which closed three months ago. The Warehouse Theatre remains without a permanent home, and earlier this month was forced to stage its international play-writing festival before disappointingly small audiences in the Town Hall chamber. And an offer by the organisers of a successful and high-profile literary festival to stage a similar event in Croydon have been shunned by the Labour council.
Timothy Godfrey, the member of Newman’s cabinet responsible for arts and culture, failed to return Inside Croydon‘s calls when seeking comment.
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