Councillor blasts £450k spent on Luton's 'People, Power, Passion' events after poor attendance

Luton town hall
Luton town hall

The legacy of Luton Borough Council’s poorly attended People Power Passion events has been questioned amid claims the money could have been better spent.

A one-off cost of £450,000 was invested in staging several events for 'People, Power, Passion' throughout 2019, as part of Luton’s pilot year of culture.

This is on top of the £235,000 currently spent on six annual popular events in the town, including St Patrick’s Day and St George’s Day celebrations, Luton International Carnival, Luton Mela, the town’s fireworks display and Lighting up Luton for Christmas.

These six annual events are funded through London Luton Airport contributions, and will include a Windrush event from next year.

Of the £450,000 spent on People Power Passion, £350,000 came from Luton Borough Council, £80,000 from Arts Council England and £20,000 from the People’s Postcode Trust.

“I think that money could be better spent,” Liberal Democrat Wigmore councillor Peter Chapman told the council’s overview and scrutiny board.

“We’ve now got someone employed to assess how successful the event was,” he said.

“It happens to be that person is the one who put the event on, so I can guess what they’re going to come up with.”

That person, the council’s cultural enabler Michaela Nutt replied: “I directed and delivered the programme.

“We commissioned a national outside agency to evaluate it. The consultancy fees were £15,000. Their work will continue for many more months.

“They will be working with our skills development programme and looking at audiences, and really looking at what we can learn in terms of our low audience numbers, which have definitely been disappointing this year.”

Councillor Chapman added: “That’s the thing we need to take on board. My view is no way did that £450,000 have the impact that your £235,000 does.

“As an efficiency of spending money to get people involved, I think we’ve got something to learn from it.

“I would rather you add an extra £100,000 for the next four years and do something less ambitious short-term, but more ambitious long-term.”

Cultural enabler Ms Nutt responded: “It’s the only place I have worked in the world which has such a socially engaged arts community.

“So that means they’re not in it for themselves. All of our creative community are trying to do things for the betterment of Luton.

“We’re trying to attract more funding from private business. It’s absolutely a problem here in Luton.

“We don’t have this huge amount of private firms with lots and lots of money willing to give out a sponsorship,” she added.

“If we really do want to position ourselves as a potential UK City of Culture, whether we are officially bidding or not, we do need to say we are excellent and we are providing excellent artistic opportunities for our residents.

“By connecting those six events and having them as a brand, and having all of our residents know when each one is and wanting to go, whether you’re part of that cultural community or not, is something we really passionate about.

“We have become known for our outdoor events, probably because we have no other option than to be outdoors.

“And I think we should be celebrating that, and looking at how we can become known nationally as a centre for inclusive intercultural activities.”