CONCERNS have been aired at Belfast City Council over preparations for next year's St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Council officials have admitted they have found it “difficult” to hire a company to cover the music festivities, and that organisations have seen the council’s funding offer as “too low.”
Alliance councillor Michael Long raised the issue at a recent meeting, in which Sinn Féin also raised concerns about a council contract elected members were being asked to agree in relation to the 2023 events.
At the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Sinn Féin councillor Ronan McLaughlin questioned a contract with Belfast Tradfest lasting up to three years at a cost of £210,000 per year for a city centre weekend music programme as part of the overall St Patrick's Day celebrations.
He said: “As far as I am aware this was done by open call. But I want to know why it is for three years instead of just one, and why did we decide to go to Belfast Tradfest when there are other social enterprise charities in the city that could have been asked.”
A council officer replied: “That is the amount, every year for three years. However, there is a capacity to do it for just one year. So it is up to three years. We say that because we want to be transparent and disclose it could be for three years.
“That’s what the tender is for. The tender went out for three years, and consequently when there was a single tender action awarded it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t go back out next year.”
She added: “My understanding is it was very difficult to get someone for this, and we are still awaiting some information back on Tradfest, particularly around the social value offer.”
Councillor McLaughlin said: “Speaking to other organisations (I hear) about the complexities of how the St Patrick’s Day funding is tranched out.”
He proposed giving the contract to Tradfest for one year and receiving a report from council officers as to the nature of the difficulties in finding organisations to cover the festival.
Michael Long said: “It is quite a concern to me that three or four months before the whole celebrations are meant to happen, that we don’t have this in place. As far as I am aware there are four parts to this, and we have only allocated one part.
“The problems need to be addressed very quickly. We don’t have a parade, we don’t have the big music events at Custom House Square. We have to ask, why are those groups that used to do it, why have they not applied?”
Another council officer said: “This did go out to tender in four lots, and out of the four lots we only got one bid, which we awarded. We did seek feedback on the low bids and the no-bids, which is part of our processes, and those who initially expressed interest said the budget was too low.”