Additional £30k for airshow will make Council ‘a laughing stock’

The budget for the development of the new Causeway International Airshow has increased by £30,000 with a Sinn Fein councillor saying council would be seen as ‘a laughing stock and a joke’, writes Gilllian Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 1:33 pm

Members of Causeway Coast & Glens Leisure and Development Committee were told there was less than £1,000 remaining of the original airshow development budget of £20,000 and there had been ‘an underestimation’ by the Director and Head of Tourism and Recreation when setting the budget.

The matter was raised by Sinn Fein Councillor Cara McShane who asked for an estimate of costs for the Airshow 2022.

She said: “We should not be in a position where we are making decisions without associated projected costs.

“I know that we did set aside a development budget for the airshow in our 2021/22 rates process and I know from talking to the Chief Executive that we have almost that budget spent on consultancy fees.

“Given that this event will take place next September and given the scale and size of what’s proposed that amount of money and more will be needed to continue to that level of consultancy.

“I know that council directors are lobbying political representatives and others to try and secure bigger funding and I know we spent money before to receive a report to try and attract corporate sponsorship and in all of the years I’ve been in Causeway Coast & Glens, we have never been able to attract corporate sponsorship.

“My overriding concern is we have officers working, and we have a very small events team working at such an intensity but yet we don’t know yet what sort of budget we are looking at for this event which is taking place in 10 months time.

“When will we get those projected costs and is it possible that councillors who don’t sit on the Project Board get a copy of those minutes from the Project Board meetings?”

Director of Leisure and Development (L&D) Richard Baker said: “In December, in accordance with the schedule of the rate setting process, we will bring an indicative budget for Leisure and Development at the December committee meeting.

“We are building up the picture all the time and parallel to that our consultants are currently working at a number of levels to secure sponsorship.

“The path here ahead of us now is there will be an indicative budget as part of the entire L&D rates setting process in December at the committee meeting which will go to Full Council in January and then what we will be doing then is bringing an estimate of costs to the Project Board which has been set up specifically for councillors to monitor the progress.”

Mr Baker confirmed he had set an indicative budget of £20,000 with Peter Thompson, Head of Tourism and Recreation adding: “I can confirm now that it is currently sitting at £19,300 so that particular budget will be overspent unless monies are transferred into that to take us through to the end of March.

“Members, I would hope you would take into context that my budget is £1.2m to the good so this does not have a detriment in the overall Leisure and Development budget. Peter and I probably didn’t forecast enough money in terms of airshow preparation in this financial period.”

Pressing the fact that councillors were being asked to make a decision without projected costings, Councillor Cara McShane said: “We are not supposed to make a decision on something and then decide to look at the associated costs a year down the line and have officers work at whatever level and then it’s just a fait accompli that this is going to proceed and we are going to have the money to apply to it.”

The Director explained he didn’t have the figures; “Myself and Mr Thompson are working up the structure of the airshow at the moment and it’s bringing all parts of the jigsaw together plus the incomes and I hope to be able to do that with an indicative budget in December but more accurately for the Project Board in January and that’s all I can offer Councillor McShane.”

Following the Director’s confirmation the Airshow development budget had ‘nearly run out’, DUP Councillor Aaron Callan asked ‘what would you need now to see you through for the preparation of the airshow?’

Mr Baker replied: “To take us through to March 31, 2022 probably £50,000 so I might have to come back into the Chamber to ask for more money. Not additional, in total.”

Proposing the increase to the budget, Councillor Callan added: “Given the fact that we do need that money to develop the airshow through and it has been a council decision to do the airshow can I make a proposal that the developmental money is topped up to £50,000.

“I think that needs to happen if we want to see the airshow develop through the way we want to see it and its part of our Jubilee programme. Obviously there is an underspend in the budget of just over £1 million so the money can be allocated from the unused budget.”

Seconding the proposal, Alderman George Duddy commented: “We need to continue this piece of work. We can’t have that run out and have officers working at risk, we need to give them our support.”

Speaking of her concern at the ‘huge underestimation’ of the development budget, Councillor C McShane said: “It sets off alarm bells for me and it doesn’t signal much confidence in terms of the budget if we can underestimate that by such a huge amount.

“I’ll also remind councillors, and maybe they don’t know, but we are talking about extending the consultants who are getting paid a huge amount more than our staff but if that’s how we treat our staff then I think we wont receive the same loyalty or reciprocation of goodwill.

“I think regardless of our politics or what we think of this event, I think it would help if we were all better informed and had more discussion given this is the single biggest event that this council will host or run and we are just throwing out £30,000 more to it right now. It needs more careful consideration.”

Agreeing with his party colleague Sinn Fein Councillor Dermot Nicholl said it was ‘typical of this council to sit there and just throw 30 grand at something’

He added: “When it comes to Conradh na Gaeilge or the Ulster Scots there’s nothing at all. We are a laughing stock and a joke.

“There’s certain agendas with certain people, seriously wise up. There’s a paper to be brought back and we know you’ll ram it down people’s throats anyway, the hypocrisy coming out of some people’s mouths is unreal.”

The Mayor, UUP Councillor Richard Holmes described the £50,000 as an ‘awful lot of money to spend on consultants’ before asking the Director ‘are we getting value for money?’

At that point Mr Baker requested the meeting went ‘into committee’.

The Local Democracy Reporting Services understands the recorded vote on Councillor Callan’s proposal recommending that Airshow development budget for this financial year be increased by £30k to £50k passed with 9 votes for and 4 members against.

The recorded vote was as follows:

For: DUP Alderman Duddy, UUP Alderman Hillis, DUP Alderman Knight-McQuillan, DUP Councillor Anderson, DUP Councillor McQuillan, DUP Councillor Callan,DUP Councillor McAuley, UUP Councillor Holmes and PUP Councillor Watton

Against: Sinn Fein Councillor Bateson, SDLP Councillor Beattie (Standing in for Councillor Schenning), Sinn Fein Councillor C McShane and Sinn Fein Councillor Nicholl.