Fears have been voiced that the company behind Londonderry’s year-long UK City of Culture celebrations might have to hand back part of its £6.5m budget.
Officials from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) have been in talks with Derry City Council and the Culture Company to uncover the reasons behind the looming underspend.
And the chair of the Department’s Assembly scrutiny committee, the DUP’s Michelle McIlveen, raised the question of whether it is time for DCAL to take more direct control over the project.
She said: “Over the past number of months, the committee has been concerned about the inability of the Culture Company to acquire the required level of sponsorship to deliver on the original programme.
“In our last conversations, it said that this would impact on the programme. The fact that there is now likely to be an underspend is a further concern.”
Yesterday she said the committee had received no more details but would be returning to the issue at its first meeting in the New Year.
“It is very much a priority for us, as is the World Police and Fire Games, and we will be chasing this issue,” she added.
Her DUP colleague, William Humphrey, added: “Obviously, there is concern, given that the council and the Culture Company assured us that everything was on line. We need to watch that closely.”
Deborah Brown, who is director of finance and corporate services at DCAL, told MLAs: “We have been given some indications that the City of Culture team may be unable to utilise its full £6.5m budget this year.
“Officials are working closely with Derry City Council to ascertain the level of underspend that might occur.”
Arthur Scott, director of DCAL’s culture division, said: “There was slippage in the amount of contracts that have been signed on the various elements of this extensive, 140-event programme over the 12 months.
“The actual amount is yet to be identified in what will be, in a sense, not used this year. We are working to try to ensure that as much as possible is spent this year, and we are looking at what, if any, flexibility exists to carry that forward beyond this year.”
A spokesperson for Derry City Council explained, however, that the budget profile — which is the monthly expenditure plan for the Culture Company up to March 2013 covering services, contracts and marketing — has been reviewed.
With 140 events already planned, Londonderry’s UK City of Culture celebrations will be among the key events of next year. Stormont Ministers and Tourism chiefs hope it will underpin the impact of this year’s Our Time/ Our Place theme. But there had been concerns over the organisation of the year-long extravanganza and whether the necessary sponsorship could be achieved.