Article published: Tuesday, May 25th 2010
Back in February, it was reported that Manchester City Council (MCC) were refusing to attempt to reclaim £420,000 paid to the company Marketing Manchester on the grounds that it would be a “bureaucratic nightmare”. While the £420,000 may have been an “accident”, it was still part of a long-term strategy of subsidies, set to cost Manchester’s taxpayers millions of pounds in the coming years.
Marketing Manchester became the tourist board for Manchester in 2004. It relies on its relationship as a go-between for local authorities, Manchester-based corporations and bodies such as Manchester Airport Group and the Northwest Development Agency in order to “develop the Manchester brand”. While its subsidiary, VisitManchester, is dedicated almost exclusively to attracting tourists, Marketing Manchester aims to court big business into coming to Manchester in order to promote more business interests. Its income is sourced from AGMA funding, combined with membership and promotion fees from local businesses, plus profit from Manchester-held events.
Take a look at the rogues’ gallery on the board of Manchester Marketing and you’ll notice a few familiar faces. Among them are two Manchester City Council councillors; Brian Harrison and Pat Karney. Two more board members, Cliff Morris and Keith Whitmore, are both AGMA (Association of Greater Manchester Authorities) members. All apart from Whitmore are Labour councillors; Whitmore himself is a Liberal Democrat – the party which called for an enquiry following the scandal of the £420,000. The remaining board members are from other companies that get frequent mention in MULE Andrew Harrison, commercial director of Manchester Airport Group (MAG), Angie Robinson, CEO of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and MIDAS, and Chief Executive Andrew Stokes, also a board member of Cityco.
When Marketing Manchester became the city’s official tourist board in 2004, it was agreed that Manchester City Council would fund 35 per cent of the public-portion of their funding and that the remaining Greater Manchester Authorities would fund 65 per cent between them. Reports then emerged earlier this year about MCC having bungled their finances and reversed this ratio, meaning that they paid 65 per cent of Marketing Manchester’s public funding. Yet this £420,000 oversight is merely the amount of publicly declared money which MCC have been paying Marketing Manchester since their creation – they also pay them a further annual subsidy. Until recently this subsidy was £265,000, but between the years 2008-2012, Manchester City Council will pay Marketing Manchester a staggering £800,000 each year, on top of the agreed budget of around £250,000. This subsidy is then set to increase to £1 million for every year between 2013-2015.
Since 2004, Manchester City Council has provided Marketing Manchester with £1,081,187 in funding and a further £2,610,000 in “subvention grants”. According to Council documents, this subsidy is supposed to fund the many “major national conferences being held in the City over the coming years”. These are supposed to benefit Manchester by bringing visitors, preferably ones with money to spend, to give Manchester an “enhanced profile”: more big business and more business tourism. A good example of this is the massively hyped Soccerex conference: because we all know that Manchester would otherwise have no association with football. Furthermore, the 2008 budget stated that “to date, £2.35M has been used to subvent 81 conferences”, which doesn’t explain what the remaining £260,000 was used for. We’d very much like to know.
Manchester City Council justify their “investment” by saying that they see “a return on investment of £32.10 per £1 of subvention provided”, but the public services which so badly need this money don’t seem to be the ones getting it. Manchester City Council’s “Supporting People” programme, which provides outreach and support services to around 14,000 people all over Manchester, will see its budget cut by around £2,800,000 in the next three years. What would you rather they spend your money on?
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