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Future of Leyland’s Music in the Park festival triggers funding row

Posted on - 24th September, 2023 - 8:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Leyland, Politics, Preston News, South Ribble News
Crowd at Music in the Park

Leyland’s Music in the Park event will return to Worden Park in 2024 after South Ribble Borough Council committed to covering the cost of the show for a third year.

The date for the gig has provisionally been set for 26th May – the Sunday of the spring bank holiday weekend – although that will ultimately depend on the availability of the acts that organisers are trying to book.

Councillors were told that the line-up was once again likely to include a mix of names who were at their peak of their popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The likes of Bananarama, Go West, Tony Hadley and Peter Andre have all graced the stage since the event was first held last year.

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However, opposition members have called into question the long-term viability of the concert and its value for money, based on how much the authority has had to stump up so far in order to stage it.

A meeting of the full council was told that the bill for this year’s show came in at £169,000 – more than twice as much as the inaugural gig in 2022.

Labour council leader Paul Foster said that council taxpayers had not paid a penny towards either of the events, because they had been funded by a government Covid recovery grant awarded to the authority.

It has now been agreed that the estimated £116,000 cost of the 2024 show – lower than this year as a result of a projected increase in ticket sales – will be covered from the same pot, from which up to £150,000 can be drawn down if necessary.

Pat Sharp at Music in the Park
Pat Sharp at last year’s Music In The Park

Cllr Foster said that Music in the Park had been an “overwhelming success” and claimed that by gradually building it up each year, it could grow as big as the hugely popular Lytham Festival. A report to councillors stated that 3,200 people attended this year, which Cllr Foster said was around 1,000 concert-goers up on 2022.

“The Covid recovery grant is…to support the community and businesses post-Covid. This music festival does both.

“Anyone that goes into Leyland, Penwortham or Bamber Bridge and sees how busy the whole borough is that weekend, [will see] how that is aiding our business recovery,” he said.

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However, Liberal Democrat group leader David Howarth asked “at what cost” the event was really coming.

“In what world is an event at half the capacity, in which you double the year-on-year losses – [and] it’s not a cost, it’s a loss – a great success?”

Stressing that he supported the concept of the Music in the Park, Cllr Howarth advocated doing things differently in order to put it on a sound financial footing.

“I’m presuming that we’re being told…that ‘80s cheesy pop is what everybody is going to turn up [for]. By all means book headline acts, but then why are we not giving a platform to local talent as opening acts?

“That would cut costs and do far more to present a sense of belonging within our local community,” he added.

Tory member Cllr Will King said that the Conservative group also backed Music in the Park – both on its own terms and as a potential way of “generating revenue. However, he said that the stats on that front so far were “pretty dismal”.

“We have seen no plan of how you are [intending] to make this more profitable. Whilst this is a money pit, then we can’t seriously agree to signing up to this all the way to 2027,” Cllr King said.

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Cllr Foster responded that members were being asked to approve the budget only for next year’s event – and that financing for future years would have to be agreed annually. They were, however, being requested to agree to the leader being able to award the contract, when the time came, for the delivery partner for the events from 2025 to 2027.

Next year, the authority has agreed to waive the usual procurement rules so that it can use the same firm that has delivered the first two Music in the Park gigs. The report to councillors stated that UK Media and Events was considered a “trusted partner” whose expertise would ensure a successful event next year.

However, Lib Dem Ange Turner said that she was shocked to learn, from her own investigations into expenditure on the 2023 show, that UK Media and Events “made a profit of £50,000”, compared to the council’s £169,000 loss.

“This does not seem right and I would question this current contracting model and ticket price strategy,” Cllr Turner said.

However, Cllr Foster said that the money she claimed the event partner had made was “not all profit”, as the cost of purchasing items like alcohol for the bar had not been deducted from it.

The pair also locked horns over whether or not council taxpayers were financially supporting the event, with Cllr Turner repeatedly claiming that she had it in writing from the council’s own finance department that it was not Covid grant money being used to cover the costs, but a budget underspend – and Cllr Foster pointing to to the agenda report which specifically referenced the use of the grant.

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Meanwhile, in something of a Lib Dem onslaught, Cllr Harry Hancok said that he found a claimed £196,000 boost to business in the borough as a result of event “far-fetched and speculative”, given that it would have required every attendee to have spent in the region of £60 during their trip to South Ribble for the concert.

Pointing out that the figure came from a government tool used for calculating the wider benefits of events like Music in the Park, Cllr Foster added that he was content that getting a regular gig off the ground in the borough was “an appropriate” use of Covid recovery money.

Between 2025-27, the council intends to set a budget to support the event, in the hope that it will become cost-neutral or even a revenue generator for the authority by the end of that period.

Nobody does it better?

South Ribble Borough Council says that feedback from concert-goers has been “really positive”. However, based on comments received, the authority also now hopes to be able to make improvements in future years by addressing:

  • the cost of items from the bar;
  • standing area in front of the stage;
  • bigger TV screens adjacent to the stage;
  • the difference between the VIP offer and general admission tickets

Read more: See the latest Preston news and headlines

Read more: See the latest South Ribble news and headlines

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