Community events in Northumberland face charges for council services

Northumberland County Council plans to stop subsidising services it provides at community events, with organisers expected to pick up the full bill.

Wednesday, 12th December 2018, 15:55 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th December 2018, 16:00 pm
Alnwick Food Festival 2018. Picture by Jane Coltman

Letters have been sent out to event organisers to inform them that from April 1, 2019, the council will seek to recover the cost it incurs from the provision of support services, such as traffic management, litter-picking and refuse collection.

The cost-cutting proposals, which would save around £50,000 a year, would not apply to Remembrance and Armed Forces parades, the letter explains.

It adds that the decision ‘has not been taken lightly and we hope this will not have an adverse effect on your ability to continue with events and you will be able to fund these costs from alternative sources of funding or sponsorship’.

However, Coun Scott Dickinson, chairman of Northumberland Labour, has the accused the council’s Conservative administration of ‘playing Scrooge’.

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He said: “What they fail to recognise is many event organisers already pay for much work together in partnership and the county council, small businesses and many other aspects of Northumberland life benefit from these events.

“Does the recharge of these small items make that much difference to the council? Absolutely not. Do they make a big difference to all those that fund-raise for these types of event? Absolutely they do. Will it push some small events over to ‘we just won’t bother’? Probably.”

But Philip Angier, chairman of Alnwick Food Festival, which agreed to phase in charges  over two years starting in 2018-19, was more measured about the change.

“Any additional charge for putting on a community event is unwelcome – because we are trying to put back into the community rather than raise the costs to stallholders or ask sponsors to contribute more,” he said.

“That said, we recognise that the county council has to balance its books and if events result in additional costs to the council then it is probably fairer that the event promoters bear the cost, and that council budgets for social care, special schools, community health and the like are protected.”

Coun Glen Sanderson, cabinet member for local services, said: “The council will continue to provide support without charge for the main Remembrance services across the county.

“As we need to find £27million of cuts over the next three years, we have to look at every service we provide and, like other councils, we feel that we can no longer subsidise traffic management and other services for events. By proposing these charges, we are simply passing on what it costs the council.

“While we value the contribution that cultural, sporting, community and other events make to the quality of life and economy of the county, the costs to us of providing support activities to event organisers is around £50,000 each year.

“We have to prioritise the use of our budgets and adopt a consistent approach so that event organisers know where they stand when planning and budgeting for their events. By seeking to recover these costs from event organisers, the council will be able to safeguard the provision of other vital front-line services.”

Feedback on these proposals can be sent by email to budget@northumberland.gov.uk by Monday, January 7, 2019.

Ben O’Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service