Lancashire MPs and Lords back county's under-threat City of Culture bid

A group of Lancashire MPs and Lords have called on Lancashire County Council to think again about backing out of a bid that could see the area crowned UK City of Culture 2025.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 6:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 6:20 pm

The Conservative-controlled authority made the move to withdraw its financial support for the process late last month - leaving Lancashire’s hopes of securing the title in jeopardy, just weeks before it had to formally declare its intention to take part in the competition.

The decision attracted criticism from opposition politicians at County Hall, but now members of the cross-party Lancashire All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) have also come out in support of a bid which has been more than two years in the making.

Their intervention followed a meeting of the group on Tuesday afternoon and comes in a crunch week for any lingering hopes the county has of pitching for the accolade, with the matter due to be debated at an extraordinary meeting of the county council on Thursday.

David Morris MP, chair of the Lancashire All-Party Parliamentary Group, wants to see the county's City of Culture bid go ahead

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If the plea from parliamentarians or pressure from opposition parties on the county council were to prompt a U-turn, it would have to be a screeching one - the deadline for submitting an expression of interest to the government to be considered for the title is next Monday.

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris, who chairs the APPG, said that its members had received a presentation from promotional organisation Marketing Lancashire - and had been persuaded that submitting a bid would be “beneficial to the county whether it was ultimately successful or not”.

“Of course, we all hope and believe it will be - and that would be just the sort of boost that our communities need after the pandemic. So the committee would urge the county council to please think again.

“There have already been considerable amounts of money spent on this process, which has been going on for the past two years - yet has now been stopped.

“We believe the bid offers the chance to win substantial economic returns for the county - as high as £300m - for what is a relatively small investment. Even if we are unsuccessful, the whole process will have helped build unity across the county and further strengthen our cultural ties,” said Mr. Morris.

He added that a research briefing into the matter, produced by the House of Commons Library at his request, had found “no record of a formal vote being taken to cease the process [of making a bid]”. The matter was not on the agenda at either the June or July cabinet meetings of the county council, which were were held either side of the authority's withdrawal of support becoming public knowledge.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed last month, Lancashire County Council has already committed £770,000 to the City of Culture process - £150,000 for initial scoping work and £620,000 to develop the bid itself. The authority has not revealed how much of that combined pot has so far been swallowed up, but the LDRS understands that at least some of the funds remain unused.

The county council said last month a winning bid could leave it with an unaffordable bill of £22m to deliver the year-long programme of events, which it would be obliged to underwrite.

However, papers presented to the authority’s cabinet last July noted that previous winners had received cash directly from the government and organisations like the Arts Council, which would equate to around 85 percent of Lancashire’s estimated costs being covered in the event that the county was victorious.

In a statement responding to the APPG’s comments, deputy county council leader and cabinet member for finance Alan Vincent said: "We know this will be disappointing to those who have worked so hard on this project over the past couple of years, but feel it is the right decision for Lancashire County Council based on the current cost and risk arrangement.”

Meanwhile, Tony Attard, chair of the Lancashire 2025 bid, thanked Lancashire parliamentarians for their “significant support for our journey towards UK City of Culture status”.

He added. “We have been overwhelmed by the support received from communities across Lancashire, including political, business, cultural and media groups - as well as all those individuals who have signed the petition to back the bid.”

That petition has so far attracted more than 800 signatures.

Although still billed as “City of Culture”, the government has opened the competition to connected towns or a region. Lancashire is aiming to become the first county area to be awarded the title.