Now we’re definitely bidding, some FAQs about the Euro Culture Capital bid

cultureSome FAQs about what’s going to happen after Leeds council bosses rubber-stamp a report next week (18th March) recommending the city bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

Q: Who’s going to run the bid?

A “strategic steering group” is going to be set up with an independent chair and the council’s culture chief, Cllr Lucinda Yeadon, sitting on it. The group is going to “advise on and oversee the development of the bid”.

Q: Is it going to be “the usual suspects”?

No. The report says specifically that the group would need to be chosen based on their “knowledge, skills and approach rather than for being ‘the usual suspects’”.

“Diversity will be important, not to tick a box but to ensure the bid benefits from the widest range of voices, ideas and perspectives.”

Q: So who’s going to appoint the steering group?

A small “selection group” chaired by Cllr Yeadon

cityvarietiesQ: Who’s going to write the bid?

That’s not very clear, but the steering group and the council will have to approve it once it’s been written.

Q: How will we know what’s going into the bid?

We won’t, until it’s been written and submitted. The council believes that some stuff has to be kept secret from other cities who bid.

“Leeds will be in direct competition with other UK cities therefore some elements such as budgets and artistic content of the final bid will have to remain confidential until after the bid submission,” the report says.

Q: So we won’t know what arts stuff is in there till it’s been decided?

Nope.

Q: So do we get to say what that arts stuff should be? 

Think of it as a trust thing.

“We would need to find a way by which those writing the bid can be trusted and empowered by the City to bid on its behalf,” the report says.

Q: Are we going to be involved then? 

LGTauditoriumpeoplebigYes. The report says the bid and “the future programme of activity” should involve and benefit all the communities of Leeds “as far as possible”.

You’ll be able to help draft the city’s revamped cultural strategy (2017-30) …

And the “city-wide engagement” is going to continue, with a focus on the people who haven’t been aware there’s been a conversation going on.

Q: What conversation?

Keep up. The city-wide engagement and conversation of last year … about bidding.

“The spirit of the city-wide engagement would continue through the development of the bid,” the report says.

Proposals are going to be developed “for establishing a framework to further the spirit of citywide conversation, engagement and transparency” …

Q: Transparency? As in keeping stuff confidential? 

Fair point. The report does admit that keeping stuff secret “may seem to present a conflict with our open conversation to date”.

Anyway, where was I? …. The engagement framework.

That could be stuff like “open access meetings hosted in different community settings,” possibly facilitated by councillors and “local cultural organisations.”

Q: To decide what goes in to the bid?

It doesn’t say. But given that what goes in to the bid is going to be kept secret …

Q: OK … What about the money? How much is it going to cost?

“How much to bid” or “how much to hold the events in 2023?

Q: How much to bid 

Kaiser Chiefs perform a sold out show at The O2 arenaIt looks like the council is setting aside around £460,000 over the three years till the bid has to be in (December 2017). That’s £285k in staff costs, plus a further £175k in cash.

But the council will still be “a minority funder of the bid in cash terms”, the report says.

There’s more detail in the “draft income and expenditure budget” for the bid that council bosses will be looking at next week …

Q: Excellent. What does that say?

We don’t know. It’s being kept confidential “in order not to release information publicly to competitor cities”.

Q: Ah! The competitors … And the money needed to hold the event?

A minimum of 20 million euros – which is the smallest amount anyone city has spent on it after they’ve won.

However much it ends up being, it’s going to mean a “very significant investment” for the council, the report says.

But they won’t be stumping up all the cash: they’ll be looking for contributions from the likes of the Arts Council, “Lottery distributors”, private sector sponsorship, trusts and foundations, European funding, earned income, philanthropy … and the Local Enterprise Partnership …

lufcQ: Hurrah for the LEP!

… indeed.

There’s a clearer picture of the costs in the “illustrative budget for the year (2023)” that council bosses will be looking at next week, but …

Q: Don’t tell me … it’s being kept confidential … 

” … in order not to release information publicly to any competitor cities”.

You’re getting the hang of this.

Q: Hang on. What would happen if we decided not to do all this secrecy stuff and put the bid together openly as a city?

Don’t be daft. We’d run the risk of ending up with a reputation of being a city whose culture is so open and participatory and confident that it doesn’t feel it has to hide anything from the competition.

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Steady online growth for Leeds-based local papers … BUT

Screenshot_2015-02-26-17-19-22After Wednesday’s not so good news about continuing declining sales of our local regional daily papers, here’s the better news about their growing online audiences.

Just about all of them posted steady year on year increases in online readership in the second half of 2014, according to data published by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Before the BUT … (there’s always a BUT) …

… a couple of headlines from the table below:

* the Huddersfield Daily Examiner very nearly doubled its online readership over the year, and now gets 9,500 more “unique browsers” a day to its website than The Yorkshire Post (why? see below)

* The Hull Daily Mail is still the most read local daily in the region, both online and on paper

onlineyorks2h14

For a bit of context, here are those local stats placed in the national picture, a table showing which regional dailies are getting the most traffic. They’re BIG numbers at the top.

(our local Yorkshire ones are in red – I’ve included the Halifax Courier because even though it’s only published weekly in print people can read it online any time they like)

onlinenatbybrowsers2h14

Now I know that no-one has come up with a way yet of turning online audience into cash, but if and when they do, you’d imagine that the bigger the audience, the greater the revenue is going to be.

So, the prospect of our two Leeds-based papers – The Yorkshire Post and the Evening Post – turning their average combined daily audience of 94,000 unique browsers into a sustainable business is, you’d presume, more remote than that of the Manchester Evening News, with its 414,810 unique browsers a day.

(I know it’s not going to happen … but if each of those 414,810 made a micro-payment of a penny a day, the Manchester paper would earn £125,000 a month. Makes you think)

The disparity in audience growth obviously isn’t down to the quality of the journalists on each paper but, I’m guessing, to such things as the fan base of a city’s football team(s).

It looks like it’s also down to the way the papers’ parent companies have been rolling out their “digital first” strategies.

Which brings us back to the dramatic rise of the Huddersfield Examiner, which happens to be the only paper in our patch that’s owned and run by Trinity Mirror.

As you’ll see from the table below, Trinity Mirror is rushing ahead of rival Johnston Press (the owners of the YP and the YEP) in developing its online audience: the top seven titles in terms of growth are ALL Trinity Mirror.

What have they done? Well, have a flick through the Yorkshire Evening Post website (Johnston Press) and the Manchester Evening News (Trinity Mirror) one and you tell me.

“Digital analytics”

Trinity Mirror: "digital analytics"

Trinity Mirror: “more of the content people want”

What Trinity Mirror says – via its digital publishing director for regional brands, David Higgerson – is:

“The increasing use of digital analytics to inform and determine content decisions is helping us deliver more of the content people want, when they want it, especially among local users.”

That sounds like it might lead to a constant diet of “Get Me a Murder a Day“, pets in pyjamas, and endless football gossip, but it doesn’t.

Whatever “digital analytics” they’re using, it’s not stopping them running the “serious stuff” (yes, I know football is serious) in depth. Here’s a random page from earlier in the week: pretty much everything you wanted to know about the devolved Manchester NHS Service, all smartly presented from one page.

Why haven’t Johnston Press set up our Leeds-based papers yet to do the same? And are there enough journalists left on the titles to deliver that kind of coverage?

Here’s the table showing which regional papers’ online audience grew most in the second half of 2014 – Trinity Mirror in blue, Johnston Press in green.

onlinenatbygrowth2h14

 

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Leeds council’s legal move against “persistent beggars” quashed in High Court

beggingAn injunction secured by Leeds City Council to crack down on “persistent beggars” was quashed in the High Court today.

Under the injunction – granted last June in Leeds County Court – “persistent beggars” faced possible prison or a hefty fine if they continued to operate in the city centre. It was said at the time to be the first restraining order of its kind in the country.

A legal challenge followed after two individuals were served with injunctions in July and August and applications were made to commit them to prison.

And that challenge led to today’s ruling by a judge of the High Court at Leeds District Registry to quash (or “discharge”) the injunction.

Why was it quashed?

Well, I’m no legal expert, and I’m relying on a report posted following today’s ruling on the website of Garden Court North Chambers (the barristers representing the two individuals).

It’s all I’ve got to go on … and it’s in legal.

The report says that the council “obtained the injunction/restraining order from ‘begging’ in Leeds City centre against ‘persons unknown’, even though a number of the alleged beggars, including our clients Mr X and Mr Y, were known to Leeds City Council”.

“Mr X and Mr Y were both then served with the injunction after it had been obtained despite being later described in Leeds City Council’s own evidence as known beggars,” the report says.

“Statutory remedies … should have been used”

Applications were subsequently made by the two individuals to have the injunction set aside or discharged on the basis that (again according to the Chambers’ report):

1  The Court did not have power to make it as there are statutory remedies that should have been used

2  It was an abuse of process not to name those it knew and alleged to be begging when the injunction was sought and then to seek to enforce it against those persons.

3  In any event the criteria for an injunction restraining a criminal offence or public nuisance were not met (especially as Parliament had reduced the penalty for the offence of begging to a Level 1 fine)

4  The injunction failed to consider the personal circumstances of the individuals concerned and was impermissibly made against “all persons”.

5  Should not have been granted as it subverted the prohibition on the making of bye-laws without the permission of the Secretary of State.

“No grounds for injunctions being made”

The report goes on: “The council conceded that the injunctions should be discharged against Mr X and Mr Y and that the committal applications should be dismissed with costs, but originally sought that the remainder of the injunction remained in place.”

His Honour Judge Saffman, however, required Leeds City Council to show why the injunction should not be discharged in its entirety as if the injunction could not be maintained against Mr X or Mr Y it could not be maintained against any other person and after hearing brief submissions held that he should discharge the injunction entirely,” it says.

What are the possible knock-ons from the ruling? Here’s one from the Garden Court North Chambers’ report:

“Judges and lawyers should be aware that local authorities do make applications without notice to obtain these injunctions when there are no grounds for them being made and that they should be challenged. It is understood that apparently unlawful begging injunctions of this type may be in force in other cities in England.”

And what has this short-lived (and short-sighted, it now looks) move to crack down on beggars in Leeds cost us? And what will they come up with to replace it?

Who knows.

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Big fall in sales again at Yorkshire Evening Post

ladybird3Pretty bad news for the Yorkshire Evening Post from the latest circulation figures for regional daily papers released today by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

The paper has recorded one of the highest percentage falls in average daily circulation, down 15.7% from 26,038 to 21,946. (only four other papers in the country performed worse)

The effect of the paper’s latest revamp – introduced in January this year – isn’t covered by the figures released today, which deal with circulation in the second half of 2014. We’ll know what effect it’s had, if any, in August.

A lower than average drop of 8.9% takes sister paper The Yorkshire Post below 30,000 copies a day for the first time in living memory.

At 51,244, the combined circulation of the two Leeds-based Johnston Press papers is well below that of the Liverpool Echo (61,902). Sad though the prospect is, it does make you wonder how long publishing both will remain viable.

Heavy falls too for Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus (down 12.8% to 17,423) and the Sheffield Star (down 12.7% to 21,437).

And the permanent conundrum: how do they keep publishing the Doncaster Star with its sales now well under 1,000 a day?

Here are the details of today’s figures. Note that the The Yorkshire Post’s circulation figures include 1,318 copies that are not paid for. All the other figures represent average daily sales.

salesq214

For a guesstimate of where our regional daily papers sales figures may be by the time Leeds is … say … European Capital of Culture in 2023, see last August’s story here.

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It’s budget day in Leeds … now where were we with the Living Wage?

green

Cllr Green: no long-term commitment

Interesting news from Bradford where the Labour-run council has announced it’s proposing to pay over 2,000 of its lowest-paid workers the “living wage” from autumn this year.

According to a report in the Telegraph and Argus, bringing the pay of council workers like gardeners, cleaners, cooks, security guards, drivers and refuse workers up to £7.85 per hour is going to cost the council £1.6m.

The change, if approved tomorrow by a meeting of Bradford’s Full Council, is not a long-term commitment, however.

Council leader Cllr David Green told the paper “the authority would not be signing up to the Living Wage Charter as it was unable to commit to paying the rate forever”.

Good news for those affected, but think of it as “Living Wage” lite.

What’s this got to do with Leeds?

cllr_wakefield_twitter

Cllr Wakefield: fair wage, regional living wage …

Coincidentally, today – the day the council in Leeds gets to approve its annual budget – is the one day of the year that councillors discuss the “living wage”.

It’s become a time-honoured tradition at Leeds City Council that opposition councillors use the “living wage” as a stick with which to beat the ruling Labour Party.

Every year there’s no mention of introducing the “living wage” for low-paid council workers in the Labour budget. And every year one of the opposition parties proposes an amendment to introduce it (this year it’s the Tories’ turn).

And every year the amendment gets voted down by the Labour majority, with promises that they’re working on introducing something … sometime.

Back in 2013 council leader Keith Wakefield told the budget meeting of the council that “by working with trade unions to make more savings, this Council will become a fair wage Council next year.”

Last year he told the meeting that “working with the unions, we will show commitment to low paid workers by introducing a regional living wage for this Council and for this city”.

Fair wage? Regional living wage? Whatever … if anything has happened since last year I missed it. It’s probably still being discussed with the unions.

To be fair, it’s complicated.

reevesbradford

Leeds MP: “brilliant news” from Bradford

First the council has got to find the money to pay the increased wage bill (and how much is needed depends on who you believe).

Then it’s got to be certain that it’s going to be able to cope with the permanent uncertainty that would come with having a two-tier wage policy, with one tier – the “Living Wage” – set annually by an outside body over which it has no control (that’s the bit that Bradford seems to have ducked).

Then it’s got to factor in the likely knock-ons for those working for schools (not covered usually by the amendments) and, in the long term, for the thousands of workers employed by firms that the council contracts work out to (ducked for the moment by Bradford too).

And then there are the pay-scale issues. Bring the 1,500 lowest-paid council workers in Leeds up to the Living Wage and you’ll almost inevitably end up with some staff suddenly earning the same as their supervisors. Career paths and pay differentials thrown into confusion at a stroke.

Some councils, like Birmingham, have managed it. Others, like Leeds, haven’t.

If you want to watch this year’s episode of the Leeds “Living Wage” saga live, you can tune in here from 1.30pm.

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Headingley to break pop gig duck? That would be Madness

stadiumCould Headingley Stadium be about to break its duck as a gig venue, with an open-air concert by Madness around the time of the Rugby World Cup?

It looks like it.

You’ll have been wondering (you weren’t? oh, never mind) what happened to the plan to hold pop gigs at the Carnegie stadium after Yorkshire County Cricket Club got planning permission from Leeds City Council back in January 2013.

Well … nothing happened.

And now the permission – to hold up to six gigs over two years – has run out, so the Club are back asking one of the council’s planning panels to renew it for the next two years.

“The Club have stated that Madness are the likely act to perform one concert in September 2015 should planning permission be granted,” says a report going to a panel meeting next week (19th February).

Funnily enough, Madness are currently teasing their fans about a Grandslam Madness tour this summer … the fans reckon it’s going to be rugby venues … and the Rugby World Cup is coming to Leeds with two games at Elland Rd at the end of September.

Will the Club get permission?

At Rugby venues?

At Rugby venues?

You’d think so. They’re asking for the same thing as they were two years ago: six gigs over two years, maximum crowd of 14,999, sound limited to 75 decibels, concert over by 10pm, stadium cleared by 10.30 …

A couple of councillors and some residents are against the latest application, but council officers are recommending a ‘yes’.

“There are no change is circumstances since the expired temporary planning permission was granted that would warrant a reason for refusal of the current application,” they say in the report.

And why didn’t the cash-strapped club, which could really do with the extra income, hold any gigs held over the past two years?

No gigs were organised “due to the limited opportunity to align artists schedules with that of the Cricket Season an (sic) suitable opportunity did not present itself”.

Fans of Ken Bruce will be pleased to know that the plan is still to put on gigs by “Radio 2′ type acts”.

Is it really over 30 years ago?

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Troubled Leeds theatre company set to be turned into charitable trust

grandwrong

Goes wrong, went wrong

The troubled company that runs Leeds Grand Theatre, the City Varieties and the Hyde Park Picture House looks set to be turned into an independent charitable trust.

That’s one of several recommendations on the future of Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd (LGTOH) going to a meeting of council bosses next week (Wednesday, 11th February).

They include the immediate appointment of an interim full-time chief executive – to lead the effort to turn around the company’s “current deficit-generating business model”.

A review of the way the company operates was launched by owners Leeds City Council last July following years of significant deficits culminating in a £653,000 bail out by the local authority.

The company is currently wholly owned by the council, but managed ‘at arms-length’ by a board made up of five councillors and four independent people. It’s being recommended that the number of councillors be reduced to a maximum of three in the new set-up.

It’s not being ruled out that the Grand or the City Varieties or both could be sub-contracted out in the future to a commercial operator to run. But that would be up to the new trust’s board, and there’s legal stuff that would have to be sorted, so nothing is going to happen immediately.

Consultants FEI were brought in to help the council draw up its options for the future of the company.

“The FEI report suggested that a commercial sub-contract would be the recommended route but a final decision will lie with any new trust in consultation with the council in its capacity as a funder. It is, therefore, proposed that the commercial option is held in abeyance at this time,” says a report drafted for the meeting.

Hyde Park Picture House

Social enterprise?

Social enterprise?

The future of the Hyde Park Picture House – and whether it should continue as part of the umbrella company – is similarly going to be left in abeyance, but a report going to the meeting raises the possibility that it could end up as a social enterprise.

“Although a full, stand-alone options appraisal has not been carried out on the venue it would appear that either a social enterprise or incorporation with other council run venues (in particular linking with Leeds International Film Festival) would be options worth serious consideration, assuming that practical issues including any legal considerations can be addressed,” the report detailing the recommended changes says.

The report suggests that the cinema’s future be looked at by the independent trust “in consultation with the council, the local community and friends groups”.

… and the roof replacement bill

Coming soon!

Coming soon!

The Leeds Grand umbrella company has been operating at a significant deficit for a number of years and has relied on its reserves and extra cash from the council to balance its books. Its unrestricted reserves have now dried up.

The council has pledged extra funding (over and above the grant it gives the company annually) for the next couple of years to make sure the company remains a going concern.

The financial situation isn’t made any easier by the fact that the company still needs to raise at least £365,000 to pay its share of the costs of the refurbishment of the City Varieties …

… and it’s annual grant from the council is going to be cut from £200,000 to £180,000 in 2015-16 …

… and, according to its most recent company accounts, it’s facing a future bill of up to £2.5m to get the roof of the Grand Theatre building replaced. “The roof is now losing slates in high winds,” said a disconsolate report from the company’s directors lodged with Companies House last month.

While such maintenance work is the company’s responsibility, the tab may end up being picked up by the council, or that at least is how I interpret the following sentence from the council report:

“… the council will remain as the owner of the freehold of the Grand Theatre and as such may be required to support capital investment into the building over and above its strict legal liabilities under the terms of the current lease with LGTOH.”

Experienced theatre manager urgently required

Coming even sooner!

Coming even sooner!

It’s not all bad news.

Since July last year there have been “some very significant improvements”, the report going to next week’s meeting says. “The latest financial reports indicate the potential for a break-even position for the current financial year.”

Which is pretty good going.

It’s going to be a tough call, though, for any new interim chief exec. The report says the post-holder “would require a turnaround period, potentially up to two years, to reconfigure the business model into one that is consistently surplus generating”.

On the question of leadership the consultants’ report is pretty unequivocal. “LGTOH urgently requires a full time, experienced theatre manager as its chief officer. The charity is unlikely to achieve the turnaround it requires without focused leadership able to implement radical changes to the business model,” it says.

There’s no mention in the report of the £178,000 fraud alleged to have happened at the company between 2011 and 2013, which surfaced last year and over which a court case is pending.

It does make you wonder: how did this long-term, major cock-up happen? And is anyone responsible for it?

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