Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has backed plans to deliver a programme of event with a budget of £250,000 to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s platinum jubilee, after both the Alliance Party and Sinn Fein questioned the figures involved.
The issue was raised at Council’s monthly meeting on January 24 by Alliance Party councillor Eoin Tennyson during a discussion of January’s minutes of the community and leisure services committee.
At the committee meeting it was agreed the council would hire an external events company to help deliver activities to mark The Queen’s platinum jubilee with a budget of £250,000 set aside to celebrate the occasion.
It was this figure Cllr Tennyson called into question as he proposed the council approve a budget of between £50,000 – £60,000 to run a smaller scale celebration, which was seconded by his party colleague, Councillor Peter Lavery.
“The platinum jubilee will be a momentous occasion for Her Majesty the Queen and indeed many people in this borough,” said Cllr Tennyson.
“That is why the Alliance Party supported the notice of motion brought by the DUP in July for Council to develop a programme of events. It is an important part of our cultural diversity and it is right that we coordinate a programme so that those who wish to celebrate the jubilee within our community can do so.
“However, Alliance will not be able to support the current proposed budget and programme. That is for a number of reasons but primarily because the budgeting process for the programme has been flawed from the outset.
“The figure of £250,000 was pulled from thin air by councillors in a working group. There was no systematic thought-out budgeting process and no consideration of value for money for the rate payer.”
He continued by describing the expenditure as “excessive and obscene” and called for a balance to be struck between “delivering a positive vibrant worthwhile jubilee celebration and the financial pressures we face”.
He then proposed an amendment that would see officer’s develop a significantly scaled back programme of events to be delivered within a budget of £50-60,000 that can developed further in the working group.
Sinn Fein councillor Catherine Nelson told the chamber she had already spoken on this issue during the committee’s discussion of the matter and described the potential spend of £250,000 as “nothing short of ludicrous”.
“It won’t sit well with any right-minded ratepayer who, at the end of the day foots the bill. The suggested spend as it sits is detached from the reality of our constituents who we all represent,” she said before putting forward for Council to revert to the £20,000 FAP programme that was initially agreed by Council.
Councillor Darryn Causby suggested neither the Alliance Party or Sinn Fein were concerned about “letting the facts get in the way of a good election broadcast” before noting the budget had been agreed months ago.
“That decision was made two or three meetings ago at least,” he said.
“The conversation started as far back as September. If those who are so anxious about this want to bring a rescinding motion I am happy to vote against it at the next council meeting.
“Cllr Nelson can, if she wish, decide to say who is or isn’t in their right mind but in my view that is an appalling thing to say about any constituents who may or may not support Her Majesty the Queen’s jubilee.”
Cllr Causby then proposed an amendment that would see the working group procure an events company if they deemed it necessary.
Alderman Gareth Wilson reminded the chamber the £250,000 is an allocation and said if the money does not need to be spent it won’t be.
Addressing the Cllr Causby’s proposal, a council officer confirmed work would need to begin on the procurement of an events company sooner rather than later.
“In considering the need to make progress it would make sense that the events company is procured and the flexibility is allowed to respond to the work that is ongoing,” said the officer.
“I would be concerned about delays. If this programme is agreed, we are in January now, so work will need to be completed and progress made and our resources are going to be limited with the range of events council will be delivering at that time.”
Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle seconded Cllr Nelson’s proposal before saying that in potentially spending £250,000 on these celebrations, Council was doing little more than “massaging Unionist insecurities about their identity”.
Following a brief adjournment, Cllr Causby put forward a proposal to ensure there is flexibility built into the procurement exercise and it was seconded by Alderman Gareth Wilson.
When asked by Cllr Lavery to explain what he means, Cllr Causby said he would like assurances the events company is procured on something akin to a daily rate not for a set amount of events or money.
“We should not be saying here are six events for a set amount of money,” said Cllr Causby. “We should bring them as needed as opposed to setting out a whole strand of six events when we could actually need more or less.”
Cllr Causby’s proposal was then put to the floor where it passed with 21 votes in favour and 19 votes against.
Aside from Councillor Sam Nicholson who did not cast a vote as he had connection issues from his remote location, all members of the DUP and UUP present voted in favour of the proposal as did Councillor Paul Berry.
All members present of the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein voted against the proposal.