Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Derry's UK City of Culture leaked emails shine light on raging battle between Derry City Council and Culture Company

Culture Company chief executive Shona McCarthy
Culture Company chief executive Shona McCarthy

The depth of animosity and conflict between Derry City Council and the Culture Company set up to run the city's City of Culture year has been revealed by a series of leaked emails.

The bitter exchanges show that year-long tensions have existed between the two leading figures behind UK City of Culture 2013.

Communications between Culture Company chief executive Shona McCarthy and Derry City Council chief executive Sharon O'Connor have underlined the extent of ill-feeling between the two organisations.

Among email exchanges under scrutiny are those dating back to October 2012 – before the City of Culture year began – in which Ms O'Connor claims that Culture Company marketing was sub-standard. Further claims were made that the council had to rescue key projects.

On the eve of the City of Culture launch, Ms O'Connor wrote to Ms McCarthy saying: "This whole project is in jeopardy and deflecting blame is not helpful.

"We really need for you to drop the us and them attitude and get with the team Derry approach."

She also wrote: "You told me there was no need for panic with regard (to) the state of planning for 2013. Now might be a very good time to panic."

Ms McCarthy's counter-argument suggested that the Culture Company was used as a dumping ground for staff who were managed out of jobs and made clear she was unhappy about constant discrediting of its marketing strategies.

She stated in one email: "Sharon is now making her move to take over our marketing team and budget. This is not what was agreed, does not make sense and won't work."

In another to a Culture Company staff member she wrote: "The move is driven by the town clerk's belief that she is a marketing expert. The town clerk has tried to push through this takeover bid by constantly discrediting the Culture Company marketing effort.

"It is about Derry City Council pushing through a flawed plan and taking the Culture Company's budget to do it."

Concerns have also been raised that the city will not fully cash in on the 2013 legacy as Culture Company will be disbanded three months early in March next year.

A spokeswoman for the council said it was focusing its efforts on the future and will work with partners and agencies to harness commitment to take the legacy from City of Culture forward.

She said: "The successes of 2013 were achieved through the major contributions and support from a wide range of partners. Building a legacy is the job of everyone involved in City of Culture project.

"It will also capitalise upon the skills and knowledge that many cultural and partnership organisations and individuals have developed in the delivery of the 2013 programme," she added.

"The council is now looking forward to a busy autumn/winter schedule and towards 2014 to build upon these achievements."

The spokeswoman concluded: "The important thing to focus on is that 2013 has been an overwhelming success. The planning and delivery throughout 2013 is already returning dividends."

Yesterday a spokesman for Culture Company 2013 said the important thing to focus on was that Derry's UK City of Culture 2013 project is being hailed as an overwhelming success.

He said: "To deliver a project of the scale of the first ever UK City of Culture with no pre-existing blueprint and such a tight lead-in time was always going to be very challenging and quite naturally tensions were bound to arise.

"The fact remains that the Derry-Londonderry 2013 programme has been, and is continuing to be, delivered to the highest standards, as evidenced last week by the launch of what has been hailed as the most impressive Turner Prize exhibition ever."

Fears raised by the Culture Company over a limited budget, insufficient funding and inadequate staff numbers were outlined in the Belfast Telegraph as far back as October 2011.

These fears seem to have been realised as back in May of this year the Culture Company confirmed that due to a lack of sponsorship and poor attendance at certain events the ratepayer would have to pay for the shortfall.

However, when it comes to costs they are still at loggerheads, as the Culture Company claims the council has not met its financial responsibilities while the council said it committed an extra £1.5m.

BACKGROUND

Derry City Council chief executive Sharon O'Connor and Culture Company boss Shona McCarthy have been strained for some time. A very public spat materialised between the pair on radio last week which exacerbated their already fractious relationship. The public show of animosity came after the resignation of Ana Leddy from the Culture Company Board, following the council's decision to wrap up the Culture Company in March 2014 instead of June. As a consequence, Ms Leddy resigned along with two other Culture Company Board members earlier this month.

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