Council declines to reveal costs of staging major music events
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Swansea Council has declined to say how much it costs to stage promoter-led events, like the Stereophonics gig in Singleton Park, and how much income they bring in.
The authority said doing so had the potential to harm its commercial interests and damage relationships with promoters.
These arguments have been accepted by the Information Commissioner’s Office – the independent body which adjudicates on what information should be disclosed in the public interest – following a lengthy freedom of information battle.
The Local Democracy Reporter Service originally asked the council in October 2019 to list the special events it had arranged from the beginning of 2017-18 up to October 2019, how much they cost and how much revenue they brought in.
The idea was to understand whether big-name events, which the council understandably took credit for arranging, were a financial burden or benefit to taxpayers.
The council said there had been 26 special events and gave expenditure and income costs for some of them, including the Wales Airshow.
But it withheld figures for promoter-led gigs such as Pete Tong, Jess Glynne, Stereophonics, BBC Proms in the Park, and also events including the Swansea Triathlon and Waterfront Winterland, saying they were commercially sensitive and therefore exempt from disclosure. This category even included a public screening of cult movie Twin Town.
The authority stood by its decision when asked to review it, saying that disclosure “will affect its ability to operate in a competitive commercial environment”.
The Local Democracy Reporter Service complained about this review decision to the ICO, arguing that the various costs and revenue involved in these events – such as security, food and drink provision, payments to artists and ticket revenue – made the disclosure of the overall expenditure and income figures less of a commercially sensitive issue.
The argument was also advanced that disclosing the overall costs outweighed the public interest in preventing their disclosure.
More than a year later, the ICO has issued its decision notice.
The ICO said the council’s special events team delivered three type of events worth around £20 million per year to the local economy: in-house ones like the Wales Airshow, park and open space hiring, and promoter-led commercial events like concerts and half-marathons.
The ICO said this third type of event – negotiated each time with a promoter – provided an income for the council and helped subsidise the first two types.
“The council advised that there is only a small pool of commercial operators with the right level of reputation who operate in Wales,” said the ICO’s decision.
“The council is concerned that the potential for other promoters to amend their offers in light of disclosure of previous financial benefits received by the authority.”
It also said that contracts with commercial promoters contained a clause confirming that financial information would not be published.
The ICO concluded that it was reasonable to accept that disclosing the withheld information had the potential to harm the council’s commercial interests.
“This is because, in the Commissioner’s view, it is logical to argue that, in a competitive and lucrative market, event promoters would seek to use the withheld information to try to negotiate lower fees for future events held in the Swansea area,” said the decision.
“This in turn would be likely to prejudice the council’s ability to negotiate agreements for future events with event promoters.”
The decision added that the ability of the council to operate effectively within “a small specialised market” by not disclosing information that competitors could use to a commercial disadvantage outweighed any public interest arguments.
Commenting on the decision, the council said it was satisfied with the outcome and that the ICO had accepted that disclosure had the potential to damage the council’s relationship with event promoters, which could lead to them withdrawing events from Swansea in the future.
THE special events which Swansea Council revealed costs and income for included:
The Wales Airshow – expenditure £191,300 and income £148,348 in 2017-18, expenditure £205,900 and income £137,800 in 2018-19, and expenditure £225,280 and income £140,280 in 2018-19.
The Christmas Parade was cost-neutral, with income matching expenditure, in the two years the council provided figures for.
The annual fireworks display at St Helen’s cost £25,400 in the two years the council provided figures for, and brought in £23,400 revenue on both occasions.
The spectacular visit of a vast mechanical miner – Man Engine – cost £69,408 to put on in 2018 and generated £58,111 income.