Councillors clash over funding for Whit Friday band contests

THE leader of Oldham Council has taken to social media to quell fears Saddleworth’s legendary Whit Friday band contests are under threat.

Saddleworth and Lees District Executive has previously pledged £15,000 to the annual event, along with funding from individual councillors.

However, following Oldham Council’s recent decision to disband the borough’s seven district executives, concerns were raised by councillors over funding and the future of the contests.

Garth Harkness, Liberal Democrat councillor for Saddleworth North, said: “I have asked now twice about funding this gap both times the leader has not committed.

“They can find money for fact-finding trips abroad or the Borough Life Magazine, which never mentions Saddleworth, but not the band contests.”

Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani, a Lib Dem Parish and borough councillor, added: “Being able to fund local projects is the very least I should be able to do, and it is incredibly frustrating to find Oldham Council removing my ability to do so.

“Many band contests are already struggling, even with councillor and district contributions. The Labour council has ignored the call for help so is clearly happy to risk a long tradition disappearing.”

However, Oldham Council leader Sean Fielding dismissed the Lib Dems’ concerns as ‘scaremongering’ and issued a statement on social media in support of the contests.

He wrote: “People of Saddleworth and lovers of brass band music… don’t fall for Lib Dem scaremongering. Your contests are safe and were never under threat.

“I am fully supportive of the contests and I would not take any decision that put them at risk. The contests are an important part of the fabric of our borough.”

He added: “Each year the council provides hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of services to support the contests, from street cleaning and bin collection to safety and road closure services.

“That will continue and there are a huge range of other funding mechanisms, both local and central that, can be accessed.”

He confirmed Oldham Council will provide funding for the marshalling at Dovestone Reservoir in Greenfield from its Community Safety budget, which was also previously funded by Saddleworth and Lees District Executive.

Instead of the district executive budget, district leads now have to bid for money from a £500,000 Local Improvement Fund and councillors’ individual annual budgets have increased from £5,000 to £6,000 per year.

But when the matter was raised at Saddleworth Parish Council’s meeting, councillors were concerned it would not be enough to secure the band contests and other events.

Cllr Pam Byrne said: “It is a disappointing decision from Oldham Council and will have a huge impact locally.

“We cannot rely on just £6,000 for each councillor to cover what we want to do. It is just not enough.

“I expect in every village in Saddleworth there is at least one initiative helped by DP funding – now that is at risk. There will be lots of criteria and hurdles to overcome to get any money.”

Cllr Alan Belmore added: “This is another shoddy plan from Oldham Council wanting to centralise everything. They should be champions of localism but it seems they just want to dictate from the top down.

“It is important this Parish Council is active in securing money and works with the community to see how we can support them and their events.”

Cllr Neil Allsopp added: “We all want the band contests to continue and that would be something we could have made sure of if Oldham Council had not already taken £26,000 this year from Saddleworth Parish Council.”

Cllr Jamie Curley added: “We have friends who come over every year from Holland to play in the band contests. It attracts bands from all over the country and the world.

“If other district executives and councillors are not able to use the money given to them wisely, why should we suffer? Why should Saddleworth suffer?”

But Cllr George Hulme commented: “Oldham Council has lost half its budget in the last nine years and has had to make difficult choices about where the money goes.

“We can look at alternative ways of funding the band contests. Businesses make a lot of money on Whit Friday so surely they could sponsor the awards or prizes.”

Parish councillors voted to write to Oldham Council to add their voice to calls for funding to be restored for the band contests, with only Cllr Hulme abstaining.

The Saddleworth and Lees District Partnership meetings are not affected by the review and will continue providing a mechanism for the Parish Council, sub groups and partners to work together.

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