Belfast Telegraph

Culture Company’s PR chief ousted as Derry council takes over marketing for 2013

By Brendan McDaid

Derry City Council is set to seize control of part of the Culture Company in a shock move just weeks before its 2013 celebrations get under way.

A letter from Derry City Council’s chief executive Sharon O’Connor to the chief executive of the Culture Company Shona McCarthy states that the council will be transferring the marketing function and existing marketing staff of the Culture Company.

They are now expected to relocate from their base in Ebrington across the River Foyle to the council’s Strand Road offices.

Speculation is rife over whether the council is planning to take over the entire Culture Company, or other arms of it, at a later date.

Ms O’Connor’s letter, written on Wednesday and seen by the Telegraph, states that the transfer of the marketing department “does not apply to the current director of marketing and communications, Mr Garbhan Downey”.

She wrote: “I have for the past eight months expressed my view that the marketing function of the Culture Company was not performing and immediate action was required to redress this failure.”

Claiming that this was not done, Ms O’Connor went on: “I am, therefore, instructing you with immediate effect to put in place the necessary steps to have the marketing staff transfer to Derry City Council.”

She added, “for the avoidance of doubt”, that this included the marketing funding for 2013 awarded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

This is thought to amount to £1.6m of a total funding package of £12.6m gifted by the department.

Ms O’Connor also advised in the letter that “Council reserves the right to implement this solution with or without your sup

port”. The Culture Company had been planning a major publicity drive as it prepares to launch the entire UK City of Culture 2013 programme later this month.

Mr Downey yesterday spoke of his devastation at Derry City Council’s position.

He said: “I can confirm that my staff are being ordered to report to council offices.

“The CEO of Culture Company has been advised that the transfer does not include me.

“I reject entirely council's attempted inference that this is somehow a performance-related issue. We had scheduled the full rollout of our marketing plans for Monday, and council have deliberately chosen to pre-empt that.”

Mr Downey added: “Those who know me will realise just how sad I am it has come to this.

“All of us have invested so much in this project, and it is essential to protect its integrity.

“It is particularly disappointing that, just as everything is in place and we are about to deliver the project, we get this letter.

“My solicitor Desmond Doherty has been provided with a copy of the council letter and is currently seeking clarification as to the exact legal status of the transfer the council are attempting to implement — and with particular regard to my own position.”

A spokeswoman for Derry City Council responded that the council was the licence holder and is fully accountable for DCAL’s awarded funding of £12.6m.

She said that the City of Culture project was “currently moving from a phase of planning to implementation”.

She added: “A number of options are being considered by the council to assist with this implementation process.

“The council is currently working with the Culture Company to look at the resources required to successfully deliver the City of Culture programme for 2013.”

The issue looks set to be raised at the Culture Company’s next board meeting on Monday.

Ms McCarthy was yesterday unavailable for comment. There was no response from the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure last night.

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