A QUESTION mark hangs over the future of one of Bristol’s premier events because of council budget cuts.
The Bristol Harbour Festival, which last week celebrated its 40th birthday and attracted record crowds estimated at more 250,000, is in danger of being scrapped.
Half of the 20-strong team that organised the event are being made redundant as part of the council’s cuts in its arts and culture department.
The loss of the ten staff will save the council about £320,000 a year.
Former Lord Mayor Colin Smith said he would be “extremely disappointed” if the event was lost because it brought so much prestige to the city and did so much to help the economy.
He said: “It’s a jewel in the crown as far as major events in the city are concerned and it’s gone from strength to strength each year.
“It’s a chance for families and people of all ages to have a lot of fun in complete safety and it would be such a shame if the event was lost.”
Mr Smith (Labour, Bedminster) paid tribute to the staff who had worked so hard to make the event such a success, year after year. He said: “They are a very professional team and have worked extremely hard and to a high standard and they have now found themselves victims of Government cuts. They will be sadly missed.”
The event used to be sponsored by EDF Energy which gave £100,000 towards the costs but they pulled out three years ago.
Since then, the council has reduced the operating costs but still had to spend about £160,000 a year of council taxpayers’ money to pay for the event.
In all, the total cost of the event is £400,000 but the income generated is about £240,000.
Smaller sponsors raise about £30,000 while a further £21,000 was saved by scrapping an annual fireworks display on the Downs.
It is estimated the festival brings in about £10 million to the local economy which helps local traders during these lean times of the recession.
In an online survey, the council is now asking how it can raise income from visitors and attract sponsors. Council spokesman Peter Holt said he was optimistic that sponsors could be found so that the event could go ahead next year. He said: “We are issuing what is really a rallying call because we regard the festival as a premier event for the city and one which we don’t want to lose.
“We’ve got 11-and-a-half months until next year’s Harbour Festival so we’re very confident we’ll be able to find a way through.”