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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Council defends spending on year of culture

Civic Hall chiefs have defended public spending on Leeds’ 2023 Year of Culture after one critic branded it an “expensive vanity project”.

Garforth councillor Mark Dobson claimed the £5.7m spent by Leeds City Council on the year-long festival was “ill-conceived”.

He suggested the cash could have funded Bonfire Night displays, which are likely to be axed by the Labour administration as part of a new round of cutbacks, “for the next 54 years”.

But Councillor Jonathan Pryor, the authority’s executive member for culture, said spending on the festival represented less than 0.25 per cent of what the government has cut from its budget since 2010.

Speaking at a full council meeting on Wednesday 18 January, Councillor Dobson, who represents the Garforth and Swillington Independents Party, said: “In light of the cost-of-living crisis and the administration again looking to increase council tax at next month’s budget, does (Councillor Pryor) agree with me that Leeds 2023 is an expensive, ill-conceived vanity project.”

In response, Councillor Pryor said Leeds 2023 was predicted to enerate more than 1,300 jobs for the city’s visitor economy and create 1,000 freelance opportunities.

He told the chamber: “This boost to our economy is more needed than it was before.

“We’re not getting it from the government. The answer to difficult economic times is not to take more money out of the economy.”

Leeds 2023 kicked off on January 7 with a night of music, poetry and dance at Headingley Stadium.

Councillor Pryor said coverage of the events was putting “Leeds on the map” and that the council’s own spending had triggered around £20m worth of extra investment from other public and private bodies.

In return, Councillor Dobson suggested the ruling Labour group “drop its narrative of having to make tough choices”, during austerity.

He added: “Would it be mindful that this money would have been able to fund Bonfire Night displays for the next 54 years on today’s prices?”

Councillor Pryor replied: “Tory politicians want people to hear big numbers and think millions and billions are the same. £2.4bn has been cut from this council’s budget.

“It’s a false argument to pretend if we didn’t have this tiny bit of culture these cuts wouldn’t make any difference.

“The scales we’re talking about are entirely different.”

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