Council cuts to Tonbridge events would be ‘catastrophic’

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THE organisers of a free family music festival have warned of a ‘catastrophic effect on the viability of future events’ if Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council presses ahead with plans to make more money out of festivals and other community get-togethers.

The council is looking to cut its funding for such events in half, despite revenue from them rising by 250 per cent.

And it is also considering imposing a charge on non-commercial activity that takes place on council-held land, such as Tonbridge Castle.

If approved, the cutbacks would slash support for the Youth Forum, a group that gives a voice to the opinions of young people, by almost 30 per cent.

This weekend thousands of visitors are expected to come to Castle Lawn to attend Tonbridge 100, which has been organised by the Poppy Appeal to mark the centenary of the end of World War 1.

But now a burgeoning programme of gatherings, which include this month’s Tonbridge Calling music festival on the Racecourse sportsground and the new Art Fair on River Walk are at risk.

Current provision for events in the budget stands at £26,800 – with income of £5,000 leading to a net spend of £21,800. But the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee plans to save £14,940 – a cut of 55 per cent – even though it has advised that income next year will rise to £12,600.

Last year council funding helped to provide 73 community events which, according to the Committee, ‘represents excellent value for money’ – while also generating secondary income from car parking charges and money flowing into the local ecomony through retail.

It is estimated over 40,000 people attended events on public open spaces, not including the Carnival, the Christmas Festival and Remembrance service.

The Director of Street Scene, Leisure and Technical Services, Robert Styles, said: ‘In recent years the council has stepped back from direct provision of events, with such events now limited to the Tonbridge Remembrance and Armistice Services and the Medieval Fair at Tonbridge Castle.’

And now he has submitted a proposal to the Cabinet for the ‘introduction of an administration fee for community events on council land dependent on, and related to, the scale’.

The Music Weekend and the summer band concerts are now attracting income for the council where they had previously been running at a loss.

The committee admitted: ‘The money spent in authorising and assisting events supports the local economy, community pride and cohesion, crime reduction and increased quality of life.

‘Failure to provide events support and activities would result in a reduction in the vibrancy of the borough as events would not be able to take place on council-owned Public Open Spaces.’

The organising committee of Tonbridge Calling told the Times: ‘We are worried about the implications of plans to charge for the use of the park.

‘Our event is people-powered to cut costs and we deliver the best experience possible on a tiny budget. Any increased costs may have a catastrophic effect on the viability of future events.

‘We wait to hear exactly what these changes are. We want to secure a wonderful community enterprise. Any increased costs will need to be factored into our plans as soon as possible.’

The budget for sport will be untouched since ‘no additional savings can easily be made as delivery is already at minimum levels to remain effective’.

The latest data from Sport England is very positive, showing Tonbridge & Malling has the highest rate of active population in Kent at 66.8 per cent active for 150 minutes or more a week; it also has the lowest rate of inactivity, with 19.9 per cent doing less than 30 minutes a week.

Spending on children’s holiday programmes has already been cut dramatically by £59,000 after Playscheme was outsourced to private firms.

The council admitted it is spending £4,000 less on them than the approved budget of £22,000.

And teenagers across the borough will also see the council’s investment in them slashed. The Youth Forum has a budget of £4,000 for logistics and £5,000 for development initiatives.

By reducing spending on projects and reviewing the frequency of its meetings and the cost of transportation, the council hopes to save £2,500.

The council is hoping to forge partnerships that will help to generate external funding. Cllr Maria Heslop, TMBC’s Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: ‘It was proposed that an annual revenue saving of £14,940 could be achieved without any reduction in service delivery.

‘This will be achieved mainly though greater efficiencies and continued effective partnership working with community groups and organisations.

‘The expected increase in income together with these identified savings are part of the continued measures to ensure value for money for residents.’

The Tonbridge Town Team was invited to submit a report on its own support for new activities and it emphasised the need for partnership.

The Town Team’s Chairman, Howard Porter, said: ‘We are heavily involved in organising events and we stressed how important for the future health of the High Street to hold them, not just the traditional ones but innovative ones too, to increase footfall and vibrancy.

‘People now want to go to the High Street for an experience, not just conventional shopping.’

He warned that penalising organisers was not the way forward, saying: ‘It’s counter-intuitive. The council should not be looking at anything more than cost recovery.

‘If you charge for community events, there’s no surplus because they are not money-making.

‘We can be more entrepreneurial and look where we can make money together.’

He added: ‘There is a strong sense of community in Tonbridge, it’s one of the strengths of the town. The more we can get people involved, the better. It’s important the council recognises that and doesn’t kill it.’

PICTURE: PARTY TIME: Tonbridge Calling’s free music festival operates on a ‘tiny budget’ PHOTO: Simon Partington

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