Belfast Telegraph

Arts supremo and council boss row over timetable for winding up culture year firm, just as Turner Prize rolls into town

BY DONNA DEENEY

Two chief executives from Londonderry have taken to the airwaves for a very public spat over the decision to wind up the company running the UK City of Culture celebrations early.

The row was sparked by the resignation of Ana Leddy from the Culture Company Board at the weekend – the third board member to quit this month.

Ms Leddy said she was quitting to challenge Derry City Council's decision to wind up the company in March 2014 instead of June.

The raft of resignations could not have come at a worse time, as the Tate Gallery's Turner Prize exhibition opens to the public tomorrow – one of the most prestigious events of the year-long programme.

Yesterday the deteriorating relationship between the Culture Company and Derry City Council was laid bare in the most public way imaginable. First, Culture Company chief executive Shona McCarthy told Radio Foyle she had not been consulted on the council's decision and was "at an absolute loss" as to why it was happening.

She described the decision as "a slap in the teeth".

Then, in an extraordinary turn of events, the chief executive of Derry City Council contacted the station and went on air to refute the claim.

Sharon O'Connor insisted 60-plus meetings had taken place, most of which were attended by board members of the Culture Company, and that chairman of the company, Martin Bradley, had been consulted.

The chief executive also said the council had to "commit an additional £1.5m" to the coffers of the Culture Company to ensure the full programme could be delivered. Ms O'Connor added there would be a substantial deficit at the end of the year that ratepayers would have to pay for.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms McCarthy stuck to her position that the decision to fold the Culture Company early lay solely at the feet of Derry City Council. She also slammed the funding figures Ms O'Connor talked about.

"On July 7, the chairman of the Culture Company (Martin Bradley) was called in to a meeting and was told a decision had been taken to wind up the Culture Company at the end of March," she said.

"In the minutes of our meeting it states, 'the board resolves that due to Derry City Council being unable to fund Culture Company beyond March 2014, Culture Company would cease trading'.

"Furthermore I am at a loss as to where the deficit figure that Sharon O'Connor talked about comes from.

"This has been one of the most difficult jobs I have ever taken.

"But there is an incredible team of people at the Culture Company who are working 16-hour days, seven days a week and have achieved incredible results, so this is like a slap in the teeth for them."

But Ms O'Connor was equally adamant that her costs projections were correct.

"The fact is, we have been working on legacy for over a year and the fact is, there have been over 60 consultation meetings Culture Company were involved in – if not all, then the majority of them," she said after her call to Radio Foyle.

"That is essentially what I was reacting to, the fact is there has been a lot of work that has gone in to legacy and I could not let that pass. We are financing the Culture Company running costs until the end of the financial year and it is very difficult for us to commit beyond the end of the financial year."

She continued: "The fact of the matter is we have committed an additional £1.5m and there is a deficit. The extent of that deficit will depend on what other monies come in before the end of the financial year."

Eamonn McCann, journalist and commentator, said the bitter exchange between the two chief executives was certainly bizarre, but not surprising to him.

He said: "The public perception is that the City of Culture year had been going along swimmingly but the fractions and tensions within the two bodies will do no good. It will be difficult to extenuate the damage that will have been done to the way Derry is viewed outside the city."

FACTFILE

Ana Leddy, who quit the Culture Company's board at the weekend, was previously station head of RTÉ Radio 1 and station manager at BBC Radio Foyle in Derry before that. Ms Leddy said she was "deeply concerned about the impact" winding up the Culture Company early will have on the project as it moves from delivery mode to legacy. Earlier this month Anna Cutler, director of learning at the Tate Gallery, resigned from the Culture Company for personal reasons. And Clare McColgan, who oversaw the legacy element for Liverpool's European City of Culture board, also tendered her resignation.

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