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Council finds cash to keep Birmingham in the running ahead of Berlin

Council finds cash to keep Birmingham in the running ahead of Berlin

🕔20.Apr 2015

Labour council leaders have come under attack for agreeing to spend £1.6 million on bringing major athletics championships to Birmingham at a time when “front line” public services are starved of cash.

As part of its events strategy the city council will subsidise Diamond League athletics meetings at Alexander Stadium for the next three years as well as the British Athletics Championships and the Indoor Grand Prix championships at the Barclaycard Arena.

Failure to find the money would almost certainly see Diamond League meetings switch from Birmingham to Germany which is desperate to host the elite league, a cabinet meeting was told.

The move was criticised by Conservative group leader Robert Alden who said he didn’t believe the council’s own forecasts that three Diamond League meetings would generate £6 million of positive media coverage about Birmingham.

Cllr Alden said the BBC would only mention Birmingham for one minute when showing the races and added that “pictures of people running around a track does not promote our city”.

He believed in the current financial climate, with the council having to find more than £100 million in savings this year, people would not understand why money was being spent on subsidising athletics while front line services were at risk of closure.

The council’s decision to continue to subsidise athletics and tennis at the same level in an era of austerity is also likely to annoy supporters of the Library of Birmingham, where £1.3 million of budget cuts have led to shorter opening hours and almost 100 job losses.

Last month city council leader Sir Albert Bore insisted no services could be exempt from their share of the cuts other than children’s social care.

In total the council’s budget for cultural and sporting events in 2015-16 is £4.6 million.

Diamond League athletics will cost £945,000 for three years, the British Athletics Championships is £450,000 for three years and the Indoor Grand Prix Athletics is £230,000 for 2017.

In addition to athletics the council will support the International Dance Festival Birmingham, the arts festival staged by the Birmingham Arts Partnership (which was last staged in 2013 alongside the opening of the Library of Birmingham) and the Aegon Birmingham Tennis Classic at the Priory Club, Edgbaston.

Deputy council leader Ian Ward defended the budget for sporting and cultural events.

Birmingham’s willingness to continue to host athletics and tennis events reflected the difference between a city and a town, he told a cabinet meeting.

Cllr Ward warned that Germany was keen to take Diamond League matches off Birmingham and that the races would probably go to Berlin if the council refused to pay for the races.

He confirmed that efforts to seek sponsorship for major events were continuing and it was hoped to get to a point where all city council subsidies were “met from elsewhere”. Whether that could ever be achieved was “a moot point”, Cllr Ward added.

Val Birchall, assistant director culture & visitor economy and Steve Hollingworth, assistant director sport, events and parks, set out in a joint written report to the cabinet the benefits of the cultural and sporting programme:

The International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) was established in 2008 as a biennial event and Cabinet approved a festivals strategy in December 2013 which identified IDFB as the city’s signature festival as a cornerstone of the Birmingham festivals calendar, with the ambition to develop a further signature event.

The arts festival planned for September builds on the success of the Four Squares festival, created for the opening of the Library of Birmingham in 2013 and delivered by the Birmingham Arts Partnership. It is supported by the Retail Business Improvement District and other stakeholders including Arts Council England.

The festival makes a major contribution to the citywide promotional campaign More Birmingham, which encompasses the completion of New Street station, opening of Grand Central shopping centre and the Rugby World Cup.

The Birmingham Festivals Board, which oversees the festivals strategy, has identified this major festival as the second signature event in Birmingham’s festivals calendar.

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