Council bosses are planning to cut all financial ties with large-scale events in the Canterbury district – including the popular Whitstable Oyster Festival.
The bold move to decommission the events, which is set to save £38,000 of taxpayers’ money, could spell the end of the bumper celebrations, which draw in thousands of punters.
Also under threat is the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival, which was set to take place next weekend but was cancelled at the last minute due to a number of factors.
The council’s plan to pull its funding and step away from overseeing the events does, however, leave the door open for private firms to host their own versions.
Authority leader Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding hopes potential organisers will see the popularity of past events and have a go at hosting them.
He says private firms can stand on their own two feet without financial support from the council, which itself can focus on spending cash on its key services.
“We have to look at saving every single penny and see how best to use residents’ money responsibly – we want to maximise it,” he said.
“Using that amount of money to pay for events which can be hugely successful on their own is not a good cause.
“The money should instead be used for core services which people expect a council to do, such as waste collection and housing.
“The council doesn’t need to be paying tens of thousands of pounds to pay for events.”
Cllr Fitter-Harding says the authority will keep its ‘events office team’ in operation to help support organisers planning their own events, and book public spaces to be used.
“I don’t think it will be the last time,” he said. “I think someone will see the potential and run their own form of the events.
“I imagine they will be different as organisers will want to do their own ideas.
“What we need to consider is how to support people to hold these events.
“Pride is a great example. The council isn’t involved in it and it is extremely popular.
“The district is such an inviting place to come and an excellent place for events to be hosted. We can market that and attract organisers to host their own events here, and we’d be very supportive of that.”
“I just do not think the council needs to subsidise these popular events which can be economically successful without that money.”
The previous four-year contract for the Oyster Festival came to an end two weeks ago. It cost the council £120,000 – or £30,000 each year – in payments to organisers Full Event Production Ltd.
This year’s festival drew 30,000 people to the coast, while at its peak in 2016 when it was held across 10 days, huge crowds of 60,000 attended.
Together, the two festivals brought £4.3 million into the local economy in 2016 but the income has since dropped due to the recent scaling back of the events.
Decommissioning the festivals is deemed by the council to be a “possible reputational and economic risk”, yet it is still the favoured option.
Officers have recommended councillors sitting on next week’s community committee agree to cut financial ties with the large-scale festivals, despite the risks.
A report does warn of possible implications but states how it will be the best decision in the long-run and produce a net annual saving of £38,956.
It reads: “Whitstable Oyster Festival has been a long-standing part of the district’s event calendar for many years and the decommissioning of this event is likely to cause some disappointment to residents and visitors.
“It is likely that the community will attempt to continue to deliver events and could be overwhelmed by the number of visitors who are drawn to the town based on the historic reputation.
“This risk has been mitigated to some extent through the current contract specification which actively sought to reduce the size of the event and manage public expectations.
“The event officer position will also mitigate this risk by providing advice and guidance to interested parties including alternative funding support where appropriate.
“Similarly it is expected that the commercial market may replace the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival, as has been demonstrated by the introduction of City Feast.
“Therefore some initial disappointment is likely to be offset by new activity.”