Belfast Telegraph

Crisis talks sought about threat to city of culture bid that's cost £350k

By John Mulgrew

Belfast's Lord Mayor and a delegation of councillors are calling for an emergency meeting after Brexit scuppered a joint city bid to be named European Capital of Culture.

But it looks unlikely that any of the £350,000 already spent on the campaign will be clawed back.

It is understood Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister is seeking to meet with MP Karen Bradley, the Minister whose department was responsible for UK city bids.

And yesterday, members of Belfast City Council held an emergency meeting to discuss what next steps will be taken on the culture bid.

Meanwhile, council leaders of the SDLP in Belfast and Londonderry have called for an urgent joint meeting of councillors and officials to address the European Capital of Culture decision.

Belfast and Londonderry launched a high-profile bid for the title in July, which was being dealt with by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in London.

Some £350,000 has already been spent on the botched ratepayer-funded bid for Belfast and Londonderry to become European culture capital in 2023.

According to a letter from the European Commission, a city within the UK will not be allowed to host the event, following Brexit.

One source said "all the necessary arrangements for the launch of the competition were made with the full knowledge of the EU Commission" and "at no stage, before this letter" was the DCMS given a "clear statement that we could not participate". However, cities bidding for the title were told by the Department back in December that they "should be aware that the European Capital of Culture title may be subject to the outcome of those exit negotiations which could have a bearing on the UK's participation".

And any chance of the two Northern Ireland councils claiming back any cash spent seems unlikely.

"As is usual with cultural programmes and competitions, the UK government bears no responsibility for the financial investment made by the cities and councils," the department said.

A spokeswoman for the DCMS told this newspaper: "We disagree with the European Commission's stance and are deeply disappointed that it has waited until after UK cities have submitted their final bids before communicating this new position to us.

"The Prime Minister has been clear that, while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe and this has been welcomed by EU leaders.

"We want to continue working with our friends in Europe to promote the long-term economic development of our continent, which may include participating in cultural programmes."

Belfast Telegraph

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