Anger at council gala day decision

Gala days, like this one at Ballantrae, may not go ahead this year.
Gala days, like this one at Ballantrae, may not go ahead this year.

There is anger at a council decision this week to reject a request for local communities to use gala equipment - a move which means gala days throughout South Ayrshire may not go ahead at all this year.

Councillor Alec Clark, on behalf of community groups throughout the area, had requested that groups be allowed to access council equipment such as stalls, marquees etc for this season at a minimal cost.

Following the council decision last year to withdraw support to Galas the communities had then petitioned the Public Processes Panel. The Panel decided to request further investigation in relation to funding options, recognising the short term scale, and bring a report back to a future Public Processes Panel. The next Panel meeting is on February 22.

After a meeting with council officers it was decided that an application to the European Leader fund be made for Gala Box funding which supplies stalls etc and funds a social enterprise to provide installation. This type of funding is already up and running in Dumfries and Galloway.

In a letter to council officers, Councillor Alec Clark said: “Because of the timescale needed to arrange this year’s events and the potential length of time to sort out Leader funding, the communities have asked me to request that they be able to access the council equipment such as stalls, marquees etc for this season at a minimal cost as they are trying with the help of Council Officers to fulfil the Council Budget and Public Processes Panel directive.

“The communities need to have an answer within the next couple of days or there will be a danger that the events will have to be cancelled.”

South Ayrshire Council’s Executive Director of Economy, Neighbourhood and Environment, Lesley Bloomer, replied: “The budget which supported gala day activity was removed from 2016/17 onwards as a result of the council decision, so there are no funds available for that work. The schedule of charges provided to community groups reflects the actual cost of gala day support and is what would need to be charged.

“I recognise that the timescales are short to get this matter resolved but the offer to work with communities on options going forward was made last summer but has only been picked up following the conclusion of the petition process.”

Eileen McCutcheon of Colmonell Community Association said: “Throughout the course of the last year, we have been advised that the petitions process was the only available route for us to try and have the decision reversed. We are well aware of the time it has taken to get to this stage, and it has not been helped by the six months that we had to wait to submit the petition, and then for the next available Public Processes Panel meeting. After this hearing we requested a meeting by email with Claire Monaghan and Margaret Burns on 1st December and had to follow this up in January as we were still awaiting a reply.

“The timescales to organise galas for this summer are now extremely short and it is not through fault of the communities that this is the case. As soon as the 2016 galas are over, we are already booking and sending deposits to secure entertainment for the following year - these deposits will be lost if galas need to be cancelled this year. Communities were notified in March last year that gala days for that summer would not be supported, hardly giving much notice there - if it wasn’t for the support of LEADER many galas would not have gone ahead.

“I am extremely disappointed with the response to what we felt was a reasonable request, though I’ve come to realise that I shouldn’t expect anything more than disappointment, anger and frustration at what has been an extremely challenging 12 months, particularly in the way things have been dealt with and the lack of communication with communities.”

The date of the next community group Petitions meeting is Tuesday 21st February at 7.30pm in Girvan Townhouse.

Councillor Alec Clark said: “To say that the communities are disappointed would be an understatement. They are not asking for charity or attempting to bypass the council decision but only asking for some short term support and I would have thought that given the motto “ne’er forget the people” the people that we exist to serve have certainly been forgotten.

“Given that officers may not understand how community events work, let me remind you. Bookings for everything from Burger Vans to equipment to dancers or bands have to be booked months in advance. That is why they need the underwritten support from the council for this season. You cannot guarantee that the leader marketing will be in place and therefore because of that these events will be cancelled. What is there to discuss?”

Councillor Alec Oattes said: “At the end of the day the officers are implementing a Political decision taken by the Ruling Conservative/Labour Administration at the last Council Budget, who really never understood the implications on Rural Communities of this relatively small saving as part of the overall Budget. I am not sure how any meetings with Officers will take this forward in time for Galas this year which will be absolutely tragic. I suspect this will mean that many Rural Galas will just not happen.”