North Somerset Council blocks disclosures over money losses amid bad press fears
PUBLISHED: 12:00 28 August 2018 | UPDATED: 13:34 28 August 2018
North Somerset Council has refused to answer questions on how it is running one of its entertainment venues, despite suggestions of financial mismanagement and it losing thousands of pounds.
The Hazy Days music festival was held at the council-run Tropicana, in Weston-super-Mare, in 2016 and 2017, but the Times understands paperwork errors meant the authority lost ‘around £16,000’ last year.
Despite freedom of information (FOI) requests being made by Times reporters and members of the public, the council has failed to come clean on the losses, in part, due to fears of ‘negative publicity’.
An investigation has revealed how the council agreed to pay for headline acts, including Reef and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, at Hazy Days in 2017, on the proviso it could keep money from ticket sales if the event failed to make a profit.
But the deal was never ratified, the Times has learned, meaning Hazy Days Ltd, as per its right, kept ticket revenue and the council lost in the region of £16,000 – with bar takings falling well below the total required to break even.
The council has rejected numerous FOI requests relating to Hazy Days.
In one response, refusing to disclose information, the council said it was engaged in commercial discussions about the Trop and added: “It believes the disclosure of the details requested and the inevitable negative publicity created by the various interest groups will cause the collapse of those discussions and thereby prevent the council from turning the Tropicana into a sustainable commercial venue for the benefit of the community.”
Attempts to access a document about ‘financial irregularities’ – as referenced within council minutes – to do with the Tropicana, were also rejected.
The council argued disclosure would reveal personal information about former staff members, meaning questions remain about what happened.
The Hazy Days case has exposed wider questions about the council’s lack of transparency at the Tropicana, where it has lost almost £300,000 since 2015.
The council has refused FOIs seeking details of the Trop’s finances, arguing disclosure carries ‘a real risk of reputation damage and loss of customer confidence in using the venue’ which could put the long-term future of the venue at risk.