Music festival gets stay of execution

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A FUNDING bombshell which was threatening to sink north Northumberland’s biggest annual event has been diffused – at least for this year.

Organisers behind the Alnwick International Music Festival had been anxiously waiting to hear if they would be charged for additional services provided by the county council during the eight-day extravaganza in August.

The cash-strapped authority warned back in March that the event would have to cough up for the likes of road closures, additional street sweeping and the erection of stages and stalls, which were traditionally provided as a benefit in kind by the former Alnwick District Council.

It sparked warnings that the festival – which has attracted huge audiences since it was established 36 years ago – could struggle to meet the extra costs, anticipated to reach several thousand pounds, which it hadn’t budgeted for.

But unitary councillor for the town, Gordon Castle, says a compromise has now been reached, in which the county will waive any additional charges for this year.

However, next year the festival will have to find an estimated £6,000 to cope with the change in council policy.

“Following discussions between myself and the corporate director of neighbourhood services, I have been assured that this year the county council will absorb the costs of the road closure and I am not expecting any bill.”

Alan Symmonds, who is acting chairman of the festival following the resignation of John Moodie, said: “It has been a generous compromise by the county council and it has certainly saved this year’s festival. Next year, though, we will have the job of factoring in charges that will be in the region of £6,000.

“Right now, we’re looking forward to what we think will be one of the best festivals yet. We have a great programme and I am particularly thrilled with the outreach projects we have lined up for children to get involved in.”

Groups invited to attend this year’s festival include singers, dancers and musicians from Croatia, Estonia, France, India, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Togo and Turkey, as well as performers from across the UK.

Chairman of Alnwick Chamber of Trade, Carlo Biagioni, said: “It’s great news for Alnwick, but deep down I believe that the council shouldn’t charge at all, considering the amount of business rates we all pay.

“The festival even benefits the council because it supports traders through the large numbers of visitors it brings.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “With £45million of savings to make over the coming financial year, we have been forced to look for efficiencies in areas that previously would never have been considered and some really tough choices have had to be made.

“In the case of the music festival this year, and due to its significance and standing, we have been able to put transitional arrangements in place. In future years we will continue to work with event organisers to negotiate a fee that is acceptable to both parties.”

“I must stress that charges will be purely to help us cover our costs, for example out of hours staffing and fuel, and we are certainly not out to make a profit.”