Agenda item

Arts and Festivals Strategy

The reason for the call in is:-

 

·         To discuss full the implications of reductions in funding and to discuss the reasoning behind the proposals to retain funding for the remaining festivals.

 

Suggested action for the Call In Overview and Scrutiny Committee to take:-

 

·         To consider whether alternative funding arrangements could produce better results for residents.

 

The Executive report is attached.  The Lead Member and Lead Officer are invited to the meeting to respond to Members’ questions.

 

Minutes:

The reason for the call in was:-

 

·         To discuss full the implications of reductions in funding and to discuss the reasoning behind the proposals to retain funding for the remaining festivals.

 

Suggested action for the Call In Overview and Scrutiny Committee to take:-

 

·         To consider whether alternative funding arrangements could produce better results for residents.

 

With the approval of the Chair, Nirmal Patel addressed the committee to represent the views of the Hindu Council.  Nirmal Patel expressed concern that there were proposals to stop the grant to help celebrate Navratri, an important event that had been funded by the council over the last four decades and represented one of the largest Navratri events outside of India.  She explained that Navratri offered the opportunity for children to help understand Indian culture and tradition.  The committee heard that Navratri represented a good example of the council working in partnership with the community, whilst the costs involved were relatively low and there was no expenditure on staffing and policing or any health and safety issues.  There had also never been any public disorder in celebrating Navratri whilst councillors also enjoyed participating.  Nirmal Patel suggested that by assisting with Navratri, the council was meeting one of its objectives in caring for the community and without the council’s help there would not be sufficient funds available to continue celebrating this event in Brent.

 

With the approval of the Chair, Bharat Gajjar, representing an organisation affiliated to the Hindu Council, addressed the committee.  Bharat Gajjar advised Members that the Hindu Council had met with the council on 27 January where they were informed of proposals to withdraw funding for Navratri.  He explained that Navratri was an important part of Hindu culture and that withdrawing the grant to help celebrate it would be detrimental to a significant proportion of the community.  Members noted that most of the costs involved for Navratri were related to hiring halls, such as those in schools, meaning most of the money was being put back into Brent organisations.  Bharat Gajjar suggested that it would be preferable to reduce funding for Diwali which was self-funded to a large extent in any case and use the funds released to support Navratri instead.  He concluded by stating that the Hindu Council had worked with the council for a long time and he urged that the council re-consider and continue providing funds for Navratri. 

 

With the approval of the Chair, Paresh Modasia, representing the Hindu Council, addressed the committee.  Paresh Modasia stated that Navratri was an important cultural festival that engaged all the Hindu community including both young and old.  It gave the opportunity to teach children Hindu morals and good citizenship and there had never been any public order issues at any of the events, with the police withdrawing from attending some years back due to there being no need for their presence.  Paresh Modasia felt that use of school halls to host events represented positive engagement with the community and withdrawing the grant would deprive underprivileged groups in Brent.  Paresh Modasia also suggested that it would be preferable to reduce the Diwali grant and retain the Navratri grant.  He expressed concern about the timescale of the final decision on this matter, stating that a decision in June could be too late as school halls needed to be booked well in advance and he asked that clarity on this issue be provided at the earliest opportunity.  He also sought a breakdown of costs with regard to Diwali funding.

 

With the approval of the Chair, Paresh Shah, representing Aden Mitra Mandal, an organisation affiliated to the Hindu Council, addressed the committee.  Paresh Shah acknowledged that the council needed to make savings and stated that he would be happy to work with the council to suggest ways of supporting Navratri.  He stated that because of the difficult economic circumstances, the need for council funding to support Navratri was as great as ever and he asked that the council consider ways of continuing to provide support for this event.

 

During discussion, Councillor Lorber stated that both the options in the report recommended ceasing of funding for Navratri and he expressed concern that in effect the consultation did not offer the opportunity for the grant to remain.  He suggested that it would be more useful to explain in the consultation the need to cease funding of some festivals and give the opportunity for residents to indicate preferences for what ones the council should continue to support.  He felt that the council needed to build trust with residents because of dissatisfaction with previous consultations.  With regard to Diwali, Councillor Lorber commented that this was a costly event to support and involved road closures and the presence of health and safety officers.  He asked whether the Hindu Council had been asked whether they wanted the council to organise events for this.  Councillor Lorber suggested that the council was not the appropriate organisation to organise events in any case and that funds should be given to the relevant individual organisations to manage such events.   In addition, the Navratri grant benefited the local community as a lot of the funds went to local schools and the money involved was not especially large. 

 

Councillor Denselow commented that the council faced its biggest challenge yet in the coming year in terms of the savings that needed to be made.  He felt that representations made by the Hindu Council had shown a willingness to consider pragmatic solutions and despite the financial problems, ways of supporting Navratri could be explored.  He added that although options one and two both proposed that the grant for Navratri ceases, depending upon the consultation another option could possibly be pursued.  Councillor H B Patel enquired whether the Navratri grant would remain if there was majority support for this from the consultation and he stressed the need for clarity and clearness in the consultation documents.  Councillor Mashari acknowledged the importance of Navratri and she encouraged the Hindu Council to participate in the consultation and to express their wish that funding for Navratri continue.  She commented that the Navratri grant was currently £67,000 and that if it was to remain in place, suggestions needed to be made as to where savings would come from in respect of other festivals. 

 

The Chair advised the Hindu Council that the report that went to the Executive on this item was publically available and could be accessed through the council’s website or a hard copy could be requested from Democratic Services.

 

In reply to the issues raised, Councillor Powney (Lead Member for Environment, Planning and Culture) drew Members’ attention to the recommendations in the Executive report and in particular the recommendation to approve consultation on the proposals.  He advised that a further report with the final recommendations would follow once the results of the consultation had been analysed.  He suggested that the points raised by the Hindu Council at the meeting be made during the consultation.  Councillor Powney explained that the consultation would not be a simple yes or no vote on proposals but would allow the opportunity for suggestions to be put forward which may result in the proposals being altered.  Members noted that as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review announced by the Government, the council was required to make deeper savings more quickly, however it would do all it could to help residents.  It was possible that the Navratri grant may not be cut completely but be scaled down depending on the results of the consultation and the council’s financial situation.  Councillor Powney commented that there may be a number of suggestions made in the consultation with regard to the different festivals and each would be carefully considered.

 

Councillor Jones (Lead Member for Human Resources and Diversity, Local Democracy and Consultation) also welcomed any suggestions from the Hindu Council and other organisations during the consultation and stated that the consultation would be structured in a way to encourage this.  She also welcomed any views in respect of whether funding for Diwali was a priority amongst the community. 

 

Toni McConville (Director of Customer and Community Engagement) advised Members about the draft timetable for the consultation.  The committee heard that the consultation documents were being developed and would be completed before the end of February.  The consultation documents would then be sent to specific groups involved in the Festivals Programme or on a database of those organisations receiving grants for such activities and in total this involved around 1,000 groups.  In addition, there would also be an online survey and meetings with specific groups and stakeholders.  The consultation would take place throughout March and April and the final report was due to go to the Executive in June. 

 

The committee then decided not to agree to recommendations put forward by Councillor Lorber to request that the Executive agree to removing options one and two as proposals and that in view of the savings required, the consultation provide the opportunity for participants to indicate what festivals they would choose to continue to receive council funding and support.

 

RESOLVED:-

 

that upon considering the report from the Directors of Environment and Neighbourhood Services and Customer and Engagement on the Arts and Festivals Strategy, the decisions made by the Executive be noted.

 

Supporting documents: