A STALWART Whit Friday band contest organiser has urged councillors to stop using the event as a ‘political pawn’ during debates over future funding.
Bob Rodgers, who has spearheaded the Delph contest for decades, attended the latest Saddleworth and Lees District Partnership meeting to raise his concerns.
It follows the disbanding of Oldham borough’s seven district executives, leading to questions over who will replace the £15,000 the Saddleworth set-up gave the contests annually.
Bob told the meeting: “We are very grateful for the support Oldham Council and the Saddleworth and Lees District Partnership has provided to the band contests over the years.
“But we feel as though we are being used as political pawns now in this debate about funding.
“There is a lot of time and effort that goes into these contests for the benefit of Saddleworth and the whole borough. This should be seen as a flagship event.
“I want to see Oldham Council and councillors continue to support the band contests but stop with the bickering.
“It is important we do not use the event for political gain but all work together to continue to put on the rather misnamed ‘greatest free show on earth’.”
Cllr George Hulme confirmed to the meeting that £4,000 has been ringfenced from Oldham Council’s tourism and events budget to go towards band contest costs.
Following the withdrawal of the district executive revenue, each of Saddleworth’s nine borough councillors had their individual budget increased from £5,000 to £6,000.
This additional money will be expected to be allocated to the band contests and will be topped up by another £222.22 from each councillor to bring the total to £15,000.
Councillors welcomed the continuing support for the contests but voiced concern over the funding channels.
Cllr Graham Sheldon said: “I have been quite vocal about the funding cuts. It is certainly not for political gain but it is a genuine concern.
“The organisation skills of Oldham Council are second to none but our fear is nine councillors are losing a large chunk of our budgets to fund this.”
Cllr John Hudson added: “Everybody, regardless of their political persuasion, wants to keep and improve Whit Friday. I do not think the intention was to point score.
“There have been changes to the funding and it has been whittled away so we have to look at doing things differently.”
And Cllr Steve Hewitt said: “In Lees, the band contest looked like it might not go ahead this year but with local businesses working together it managed to go ahead.
“We need to replicate that across the area. We need to change attitudes. This is not a free show.
“People come from all over the world so it is an event we should be celebrating, not using as a political pawn.”
Oldham Council insisted there is no threat to the band contests and the disestablishment of the Saddleworth and Lees District Executive will have no adverse impact on funding.
Council leader Cllr Sean Fielding said: “We’ll not only continue to give financial support but also thousands of pounds in officer time helping to co-ordinate things before, on the day and clearing up after.
“As a former member of a brass band I know how much the band contests mean to the players, residents and the borough.
“It’s a great community-run event which brings people from all over the country, and beyond, to Saddleworth.”