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We do not gel and are not in dire straits enough for Southend to warrant bid for the City of Culture

Place Scrutiny Committee Monday, 28th November 2022 at 6:30pm

I have previously written an article about the City of Culture bid that Southend can enter into for 2029.

It was initially said by the portfolio holder at the time that a consultation will be made for residents to voice their opinion.

Shortly after, this changed and the decision was taken to abandon the idea altogether, pointing towards the cost of living crisis and that the bid would cost £2m upwards.

If this were the case then absolutely agree. Yet, this is not.

As I highlighted before, a £40K grant is available, and more money after that.

Interestingly, Southend had already put a bid in around 2014 when it wasn’t even a city. It did not win, however, the cost of the bid, as highlighted by a committee member, was nothing like the figures portrayed - more like the £50K mark, if that.

When questioned on this her answer was to physically compare a print-out of the Hull bid to the previous Southend bid, and use it as hard evidence as to the different levels of investment.

She wouldn’t want to do it for "any less than the best" - “don’t do it half-baked”! She exclaimed. Fair notion, but best and money are very different subjects.

She then said, “you need consultants - we won’t win without them!” I shall not step on the toes of this most poetic of statements and simply allow it to breathe. Although, I will say for the record - I don't agree!

For some slightly odd reason, the portfolio holder made the bold assumption that the "committee’s hearts weren’t really in it!" Not sure how she tumbled them through their genuinely diligent questioning, but I imagine that all mind-readers can have an off day from time to time.

She went on to say we need to gel as a city first. Not sure what that meant and there was no further explanation as to what the plans were to have us gel, what the gel metric would be, and at what point we would be deemed as suitably gelled. Still, this was a major consideration.

Almost, but not quite a total contradiction, she mentioned that Hull - a previous winner - won it mainly because they were in “dire straits”.

I would have thought the winner would have been the bid with the most wonderful culture, not the one most bereft of a positive one. Presumably, they nailed the gel.

She then spoke about the money being better set aside elsewhere. Well, the money is grant money from central government specifically for the bid, so there is no set aside to be had.

In the end, her argument was that she just "felt It was the wrong time for this". A powerful argument within some contexts of life, but not within the context of something that could be hugely transformational to our city.

I would do this project for free. It is filling out a set of criteria on a piece of paper and talking about all the great aspects of Southend. I’m sure I could find plenty of dire strait areas to help the cause if that is what is necessary.

Before finding the cold water, I would have contacted all the previous bidders across the UK to ask for their advice and experience on the matter, and rather than rely on my feeling that it is not the right time, I would be more inclined to let the facts shape my opinion and allow them to guide me rather than quashing the little knowns into how I want them to be.

Lastly, it was poignantly mentioned that as part of Sir David Amiss’ ambitions for the city, a City of Culture bid would always follow. It is in his honour that we have achieved city status and it really ought to be in his honour that we continue to pursue his full ambitions.

However, the vote was taken by the committee and unfortunately, it was not referenced back to the Cabinet on a vote of seven versus eight.

It seems to be over for now and what a seriously unambitious decision that has been taken.

On the upside, if I heard correctly, the next time a bid can be made will be in 2035.

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