Sidmouth Folkweek future bright (so says the Sidmouth Herald of 3 July 2009).

Sidmouth Town Council increases its grant from 5,700 to 15,000 for 2009.

Sidmouth Folk Week organisers find 30,000 to enable the event to proceed.

How times change!

It was only a few years ago that no additional money could be found to underwrite support for one of the largest folk arts festivals in Europe. The Sidmouth International Festival gave Sidmouth and the surrounding area a substantial annual boost in terms of publicity and tourism. Notwithstanding that the annual benefit was nothing like the 5million or 6million that was claimed, it represented remarkably good value for both the town and for attendees from across the world. Indeed, in terms of cost effectiveness for the town, Sidmouth took all the many benefits and gave very little in return. East Devon District Council contributed 60,000 and some services - and in recognition the festival offered all East Devon residents reduced price tickets.

It was perhaps too good to last. Personal antagonisms also got in the way. The rest is history (see previous pages of this website and in particular a recent academic study). The years from 2005 have seen a gradual 'rebirth' of the festival, albeit it is still on a much smaller scale. It has so far regained only a few percent of the international content that made it unique in the UK. Both the social and ceilidh dancing - once such highlights of the week - survive only at a lower level - but the lineup for 2009 looked appealing and turned out a great success. The new organisers have surprised everyone with the progress that has been made - despite EDDC funding being abruptly withdrawn. Sidmouth has also been blessed with four years of reasonably good weather - at least in the first week of August! As yet there has been no repeat of 1997, but the frequency of summer flash storms is forecast to increase.

The working programme for 2009 confirms how far the organisers have moved to respond to feedback from attendees - and how short of money they really are. Welcome changes include that some lunchtime social dances are to be held in the Blackmore Gardens marquee and there will be more food outlets. It may take some years for dance numbers to return to near those seen in the 'good old days'. A few years of poor or even pathetic attendance should not preclude these lunchtime dance events being repeated. The Blackmore Gardens marquee has to be provided, the only costs involved for any one event are marginal (plus opportunity cost, as always!). This is a different argument from that for the Bulverton which I maintain could well be scrapped entirely if attendance does not improve and overall finances are stretched.

folk week 2009 wkg prog intro.jpg (108819 bytes) Extract from Folk Week pdf working programme 2009.

Does 'more intimate' mean smaller?

Why was the word 'dance' omitted from the last sentence? Maybe in a few more years' time?

Is 'Festival' (used 5 times) replacing 'FolkWeek' (used once)?

Stewards are still needed (as of 9 July) but 'free' bus travel has not been reinstated. This was one of the perks of being a steward in the old days. The organisers are fond of saying what good value the season tickets are - 140 for over 7 full days of entertainment if you buy one early enough. But add in camping at 50, a few concert tickets (included in most other festival season tickets) and a bus pass (increased to 24 for 2009, perhaps because of loss of a sponsor?) and you are up to about 280. Reinstating a 'free' bus pass at these rates for all 450 stewards could cost the organisers 10,000 - although they would be able to negotiate a substantial reduction from the operator.

The real point about all the squabbling over whether Sidmouth bus tickets (etc) are good value compared with other festivals or whether stewards deserve a 'free' bus pass is that the overall finances must be in a dire state if there needs to be a debate at all. As the 2009 organisers have said (and it it true of most festivals) - the event couldn't happen without the hundreds of stewards whose collective contribution at Sidmouth amounts to around (say) 200 worth of work x 450 stewards = 90,000 for some 15,000 hours of work. If the unpaid work over the year of principal organisers is included, the total is likely in excess of 20,000 hours.

folkweek2009 stewards.jpg (34419 bytes) Extract from the 2009 Sidmouth Folk Week Stewards webpage. Unlike in previous years, there was no mention of any bus pass arrangements - probably because negotiations were still ongoing.

At true commercial rates, to replace the stewards with paid staff with overheads, company profits etc would cost probably well in excess of 120,000. Add in antisocial hour rates and you could be looking at over 150,000. On this one point we can all agree: no stewards = no festival. The situation of stewards in 2008 is discussed here.

folkweek2006 stewards.jpg (41019 bytes)

Stewards in 2006 worked 4 hours for their tickets - and were promised free bus travel.

folkweek2007 stewards.jpg (44256 bytes)

In 2007, the work hours increased to 5 per day and bus concessions were unclear.

Much has been made recently in the local press of grants from Devon County Council in the last couple of years - and usually casting Councillor Stuart 'lunatic' Hughes as the Good Fairy. The money that he so graciously presents to the organisers (and to other local causes) is of course public money from local taxpayers, as is the contribution from Sidmouth Town Council. Direct public support for Folk Week 2009 seems now to total 25,000 - and with contributions from local businesses adding only another 5000?

sidmouth festival july 09 modified.jpg (153993 bytes)

Article in the Sidmouth Herald 3 July 2009. The origin of yet another claim for financial benefit brought to the area is unknown. The claim seems almost as ludicrous as that for 5 million or 6 million made in previous years - and that has been comprehensively demolished. The number of season tickets sold is probably less than 800 and most of the claimed 30,000 visitors would be casual trippers who might spend a few pounds in local shops. The benefit to private residents (who provide all the money given by councils) is of course as close to zero as it ever was! Indeed, because some money is now coming from Devon County Council, taxpayers across Devon (not just East Devon) will be contributing to an event that few of them will benefit from directly.

sidmouth DCCcheque 09 crop.jpg (82107 bytes)

Devon County Council Gets FolkWeek Singing

Sidmouth's Devon County Councillor Stuart Hughes presenting a cheque for 10,000 to FolkWeek Directors John Braithwaite and John Heydon. With the County Council's support, FolkWeek is presenting a trio of choirs - Australia's Spooky Men's Chorale, The London Bulgarian Choir and Stream of Sound from the West Midlands. See press release for full story.

Photo and text abstracted from the official Folk Week website, July 2009.

Sidmouth Town Council raised their contribution to 15,000 in 2009 - so far I'm not aware of a photo opportunity with Hughes taking the credit for that too!

If indeed the quoted figure of 30,000 is the total the organisers needed to secure continuation of Folk Week - then it would appear that the people who benefit most from the claimed 1.5 million (local traders, hotels etc) contributed just 5000. This may have included donations from the Rugby and Cricket clubs which both make large profits (combined over 15,000?) from parking (etc) and donate a little to Folk Week in return.

Whilst 30,000 may seem like a lot of money to some people (and it certainly seems to have Folk Week organisers excited) it is less than the allowances reportedly paid in a year to just one local councillor - a showman and ex- Monster Raving Loony Party candidate - none other than Stuart 'lunatic' Hughes. There are dozens of councillors in Devon. Getting rid of just one of them would be painless. Getting rid of many of them might even happen if East Devon District Council is abolished (as has been proposed). 30,000 is also far less than the total resource costs of just one middle-ranking council employee - and we could cheerfully get rid of a few dozen of those.

Taken in its proper perspective, the world is full of good deeds waiting to be done for want of a little money, and full of overpaid so-called public servants. This is a topic in itself - and the surplus wealth of the private sector is (arguably) greater than that of the public sector. For example, a recent estimate of the surplus wealth that the 10% of richest American families could easily give away was $471 billion annually. Most people have no comprehension of either the scale of the world or of the surplus money that is sloshing aimlessly around. I'll leave further discussion to a different section of this website, if I ever get around to writing it!

folkweeksupport.jpg (98301 bytes) Much emphasis was placed on recognising the support afforded by the town of Sidmouth in 2008 and 2009.

It has been clear for years that Folk Week needs every penny it can get.

This high profile 'thanks' appeared on the website in 2009 and in an updated form on the cover of the working programme.

Positioning of the sponsors may be determined by their generosity (with taxpayers' money!) - Sidmouth Town Council at 15,000, DCC at 10,000, and so on.

Sidmouth Hotels and the Rugby Club may give 1000 each - so if the total from the rest is only 3000, this represents on average about 75 each from some 40 businesses.

All these sums of money are utterly trivial alongside the long established waste within local and central government with its empire building, grandiose offices, multiple layers of unnecessary bureaucracy, etc.

Yet as with MPs expenses, people get more excited about trivial sums of money than about the billions of pounds wasted on inane computer systems or quangos. This is simply because most people can understand and identify only with small sums of money.


sidmouth town council july 09.jpg (52538 bytes) Extract from Sidmouth Town Council Budget 2009/2010.

The annual precept is 293,482 of which over 200,000 goes on 'Administration, General Expenditure and Freehold Property Expenses' - roughly interpreted as lavishly revamped offices, comfortable salaries and gold plated pensions!

The full Annual Report 2008/2009 from which this extract is taken should be available on the Sidmouth Town Council website - but be warned, the site is difficult to use if you don't have broadband. Most documents available for download are in high quality pdf and without even the customary and recommended statement of file size - essential for users who struggle with a slow modem. Financial summaries and the like should also be available in simple htm or as word documents (or as separate small pdf files) - thus giving easy download to all users world-wide. At present all you get from Sidmouth Town Council is many warnings like this:

This document is rather large so please allow time for download.

Roughly translated this means:

If you don't have fast broadband then tough cheese!

There is actually quite a serious problem here: billions of dollars (and pounds) are being spent on upgrading networks and servers simply to cope with the increasing amount of valueless 'junk' being loaded onto the internet. It may not be long before Sidmouth Town Council spends yet more public money unnecessarily incorporating videos onto its websites. It will probably claim this is all a 'rich digital experience' and 'essential to market the town in the digital age'. Apart from enhancing job opportunities at the council, all it will achieve is to make websites even less accessible to many users (including many overseas).

The official Sidmouth Folk Week website has moved in the opposite direction - it used to include a lot of fancy graphics and was slow to load. It is now excellent. Sidmouth Town Council - please learn from the experts! 

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