Festival costs taxpayers £150,000

Councillors are under fire after poor crowds at a festival cost taxpayers £150,000.

The Big Culture Show saw rock band The Feeling, TV's Bob The Builder and Chas 'n' Dave perform in Victoria Park, Haywards Heath.

But tickets priced at £24 a day failed to draw large crowds and cabinet papers shown to Mid Sussex District Council this week reveal losses of about £150,000.

Organisers said they were "extremely disappointed" and have blamed bad weather for the lack of takings.

But Councillor Paddy Henry, the sole Labour representative on the Tory-led council, said the three-day event was a "total waste" and that heads should roll.

He said: "If you worked for a private company and you lost £150,000 you'd be out the door. When you're bolstered and feather bedded by council tax money it seems you can just squander it, no questions asked.

"Someone should throw themselves on their sword for this."

The expected loss was reported to councillors during a cabinet consideration on the council's 2007/8 budget.

But Coun Henry, who watched the meeting from the gallery at its Oaklands site, said the figures were not debated by councillors.

The report reads: "The financial position regarding the Big Culture Show, held over three days from May 31 to June 2007 is also becoming clearer.

"Whilst negotiation on the final figures has yet to be finalised the likelihood is that an overall loss in the region of £150,000 has been incurred.

"The head of the service and management teams are confident that the losses can be recovered within the financial year."

The council would not confirm the cost of holding the huge event, believed to be in excess of £500,000.

Audience figures have also not been released but Liberal Democrat councillors have already referred the event's organisation to a performance and scrutiny committee.

Readers of The Argus have complained the festival was over-priced and described the showpiece firework display as "almost empty".

One member of the public said: "I think the staff out-numbered the people entering."

However, Paul Squires, head of leisure and well being, said the loss represented less than one per cent of his £17 million budget.

He added: "We worked extremely hard to bring a fresh event to Mid Sussex and we are all obviously extremely disappointed with the outcome and the attendance.

"Due to the generosity and support of many local businesses we were able to keep our expenditure well within budget however the income from sales was well down on projections.

"Just like elsewhere, we suffered as a result of bad weather.

"This event was not the success we had hoped for, however the losses represent less than one per cent of our total leisure and culture business.

"As such it will not impact on people's council tax bills as the growth and management of the remainder of our business will be sufficient to ensure we continue to bring innovative, exciting - and occasionally daring - events to Mid Sussex."

Did you attend the event? Did the council do enough to publicise it? Tell us what you think below.

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