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What were they thinking?

Kent County Council is to spend £225,000 as a joint sponsor of a major cultural festival in America, it has emerged. The council has agreed to become a key financial backer of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington in 2007 as part of a drive to boost the number of American tourists coming to Kent. Council chiefs say the investment represents “value for money” and could eventually deliver a £50 million fillip to the county’s tourism industry.

Kent’s investment in US event “value for money”

What were they thinking?

Kent County Council is to spend £225,000 as a joint sponsor of a major cultural festival in America, it has emerged. The council has agreed to become a key financial backer of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington in 2007 as part of a drive to boost the number of American tourists coming to Kent. Council chiefs say the investment represents “value for money” and could eventually deliver a £50 million fillip to the county’s tourism industry.

While KCC’s involvement with the festival in 2007 has been public knowledge for some time, its financial investment has not previously been disclosed. Details were released to the Kent Messenger Group in response to a request we made under the Freedom of Information Act. It has also emerged that KCC is separately spending a further £265,000 developing its links with Virginia. KCC deputy leader Cllr Alex King, who is spearheading the council’s participation in the festival, said:

“The potential is very significant in terms of the impact on the Kent economy. What we have to do is promote Kent in a way which promotes the county elsewhere coherently and effectively. We have a very strong partnership with Virginia, which will lead to two-way tourism. In my view – and it is a conservative estimate – we can bring £50m into the Kent economy and if we get it right, the impact will last for a lot longer.”

But he conceded that KCC could not be assured of a return on its investment.

“There are no guarantees in this. Sometimes, you have to take a punt. But in two weeks, one million people visit the festival and it is the biggest event of its kind in North America. It is very good value for money.”

KCC says its presence will give it a “shop window” to promote the county to potential visitors, with exhibits and performances by Kent-based artists, craftsmen, food producers and musicians. Cllr King said some of the £225,000 would be used to meet the costs of groups or individuals participating but commercial enterprises would have to pay their own way.

“I am not funding anything which will pay for itself.”

The decision to become involved in the festival is a result of Kent’s efforts to exploit its historic links with the state of Virginia. Those links go back 400 years, when many of the first settlers in Virginia came from the county.


What is the Smithsonian Festival?

The free 10-day festival, founded in 1967, promotes itself as a global “cultural celebration” focusing on showcasing, through exhibits and performances, traditional arts and crafts from America and elsewhere. It is held outdoors on the National Mall at Capitol Hill in Washington DC and is visited by more than one million people.

Kent County Council’s financial backing for the Smithsonian Festival is not the only money being spent on its efforts to forge closer ties to America. It has allocated £265,000 to a project to “identify and develop links between Kent and the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA”.

A further £50,000 is being spent on a marketing campaign “to position Kent as a destination of choice for US visitors”. Meanwhile, consultants have been paid £50,000 to examine if direct transatlantic flights between Manston Airport in Thanet and the USA would be commercially viable.

The money is coming from the Kent Regeneration Fund, which is worth £1.5million a year. The fund is used to allocate grants to initiatives or projects that could help boost the Kent economy. It was used by KCC to make a £121,000 investment in EUJet, the low-cost air operator based at Ramsgate’s Manston Airport. The company went into administration last year and KCC lost its money.

While the fund is public money, Cllr King said it did not add to the burden on taxpayers as it was generated from the windfall resulting from the development at Kings Hill.

kentonline 13th Jan 2006

 

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