Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: How Northern Ireland councils spent big on awards nights

Northern Ireland council's expenditure on awards nights. Graphic Raymond Esteban
Northern Ireland council's expenditure on awards nights. Graphic Raymond Esteban
Unnecessary: John O’Connell
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Councils here spent more than £600,000 on awards ceremonies in just three years.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council had a bill of £162,188 - the second highest in the UK.

The costs emerge in a report published today by right-wing pressure group The TaxPayers' Alliance.

The local authorities spent more than £6m, with an average cost to the taxpayer per council of £18,064.

In Northern Ireland the spend was £613,589.

The true total may be higher because one of our 11 local authorities - Causeway Coast and Glens - did not respond.

The TaxPayers' Alliance said councils here were spending three times more than the average local authority on award ceremonies.

Its chief executive John O'Connell said many families would be unhappy at the "unnecessary extravagances".

"There's nothing wrong with congratulating staff who work hard or celebrating local businesses, but councils should prioritise the essential services that they are paid to provide," he said.

"It's encouraging to see that so many councils were successful in negotiating sponsorship arrangements to pay for some ceremonies, and all local authorities in the UK should seek to do the same."

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council's spending was only overtaken by Derbyshire County Council, which forked out £218,483.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said it held several awards in the three-year period including The Community Awards, annual Senior Sports Awards, annual Junior Sports Awards, Food Heartland Awards and the Borough Business Awards.

"These events are organised to recognise and champion local success and community achievement, and are exceptionally well-supported by attendees and sponsors," it said.

"The figures quoted represent the total cost of these events before deducting income from ticket sales or private sector sponsorship."

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council had the second highest spend here at £93,449, followed by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council at £81,588.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said its events included the In Bloom awards, Sports Awards and sponsorship of the Carrickfergus, Larne and Ballymena Business Awards.

"Our awards expenditure includes sponsorship of local business awards, environmental recognition awards and sports awards," it said.

"Growing our economy, improving the borough for visitors and locals as well as creating strong and healthy communities are three of council's strategic priorities.

"It's important to recognise the achievements of local people who help achieve these goals and who make Mid and East Antrim a desirable place to live, visit and invest in."

Belfast City Council spent £74,848, but noted the average spend in Northern Ireland was around £60,000.

It said this reflected Belfast being the largest local authority, covering 155,000 households.

"Council hosts a number of events on an annual basis to reflect our appreciation for those who support communities, promote sport, and volunteer," it said. "Through the Belfast Agenda, council is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of all its citizens and promoting a vibrant and inclusive city.

"These events show our appreciation for the invaluable contribution made by individuals, groups and staff to improving health and wellbeing in the city."

The events included the Belfast Sports Awards, Belfast Older Volunteers Awards, a staff event held in 2016, and a one-off Co-operation Ireland event hosted by Belfast City Council and sponsored by IPB Insurance.

It added: "Council will secure sponsorship of events as and when appropriate."

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council spent £65,180, Mid Ulster Council £48,397, and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council £44,943.

Derry City and Strabane District Council spent £27,434, while Ards and North Down Borough Council spent £13,544.

Ards and North Down Borough Council said it worked collaboratively at an internal level to deliver cost efficiencies.

It added: "We also avail of our own premises for the delivery of awards. Taking one example, for our Sports Awards, we offer sponsorship across each of the nine categories and also charge for additional ticket sales".

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council had the lowest expenditure here of just £2,013.

It said the council held two award ceremonies in 2017/18 but none were held in the previous two years.

A total of 53 UK local authorities weren't included in the report, as they either failed or refused to respond, or provided an "inadequate" response, compared to 366 who adequately fulfilled the request.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council was listed as a "refusal".

It said it had responded, but the word "award(s)" was not used within the council's finance systems.

Relevant information was held for Freedom of the Borough ceremonies, with £4,500 being spent on two such event in 2017/18.

A total of 65 councils spent nothing on award ceremonies, which was down to successful sponsorship arrangements.

The TaxPayers' Alliance investigation also concluded that Scottish award ceremony spending was nearly 40% higher than the average spend of English councils, while Welsh councils spent 44% less than the UK average.

Update: After going to press two councils responded to our request for comment.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council explained that among the awards ceremonies hosted annually by Council are the Council District Sports Awards, the Woman of the Year awards and the North West Business Awards that are all key in acknowledging the efforts and achievements of our citizens across the Council area.

"We also provide a financial contribution to both the Londonderry and Strabane Chamber of Commerce organisation towards their annual awards ceremonies that are organised to showcase and acknowledge the work of the local business community.

The Council believes these awards ceremonies are key to promoting and recognising the positive work and achievements across our Council area."

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said it spent a total of £44,943.85 organising or sponsoring 16 awards and recognition events from 2015-2018.

"In a number of instances the Council has been approached by external parties to provide sponsorship of awards related to the District or specific industries relevant to the District," it said in a statement.

"These were considered by the Council which approved any sponsorship provided as it was considered in line with Council objectives. 

"The Council has sought sponsorship from local industries and has applied this to defray other service costs but has not specifically addressed this in the context of events and awards. This is being further considered as part of a sponsorship policy which will also consider the impact of procurement regulations."

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