Monday, 14 March 2011

Highland Council in Scottish Open Row

The sensitive argument over public sector funding for tourism related events has again surfaced this time in the Highlands with the announcement that Highland Council will apparently be giving Barclay's Bank £33,000 towards the staging of The Barclays Scottish open at Castle Stuart later this year.

The critics are saying that the payment is insenstive at a time when key services are being cut whilst the supporters argue that the money had come from “existing budgets", with council budget leader David Alston saying that “Because we’re in this economic climate, getting this event in the Highlands is a major economic boost and this makes it absolutely right that we offer some level of support.”

Who's right? With cuts everywhere - and not just in the public sector - is there room for payments to be made to Barclays? We don't know the function of the payment nor the direct benefits tied to it but it would seem certain that public funding for the promotion of a European Tour event could be argued as an investment in promoting the golf tourism product of the area.

The flip side however is that both Highland and Islands Enterprise and VisitScotland have already supplied funding support and whether the money actually helped secure the event. If not can it really be a good piece of public sector expenditure if this was used to simply add the Highland Council logo to the event?

And if you wished to argue the case even more deeply, the direct benefits of the evant are likely to be with the filled rooms across the strip from Inverness to nairn, not only during the event but beyond. Is there not some onus on the private sector to look at how event development can be built into their own marketing expenditures in the years to come.

The politics of handing £33,000 over to Barclays from a council will certainly stick in the throats of many but in the bigger picture that's not what the argument should be about. The strategic question to be asked for the future must be structured around what role the public sector, at national and local level, has and should have in attracting events to and then funding for these events in Scotland and the regions and areas within the country.

There are many exampales of ill thought out council supported competitive bidding processes and the subsidy and creation and support of contrived events (sporting and cultural) which only displace visitors from one area to another within Scotland. There is not enough questioning of the effects of public money and there benefits to the local communities that they are meant to be servicing and whether in fact the public funding actually discourages in the longer term investment by the travel industry in developing their won projects and programmes.

The word displace has been used a couple of times in the above paragraphs. "Displacement effects" were always one of the first issues to be addressed when Scottish Enterprise funding was being sought. It's a concept that seems to have vanished but maybe should be looked at again with a large number of tourism related projects.

Anyway the question that the Barclays funding support raises is what role public sector funds should have in supporting events such as this. Council leader and self confessed golf enthusiast Sandy Park puts it better than we could:
“We, through the same budget, supported the downhill cycling championship at Fort William, which makes a massive amount of money, and the marathon.
Are you saying we should stop sponsoring those events?"
We're not sure of the answer Councillor but in the current financial climate it should no longer be seen as a rhetorical question

Read more: Press and Journal Article
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