Is messing around with city’s highly successful events programme yet more change for change’s sake?

by Colin Campbell

INVERNESS councillors have approved revised arrangements which had been proposed for the delivery of the Inverness Common Good funded Inverness Events and Festivals programme by the Highland Council’s grandly titled “Chief Executive Officer – Transformation”.

Winter Wonderland is just one of the events that has brightened up Inverness and brought enjoyment to many.

In recent years tens of thousands of locals and visitors have attended the Inverness Highland Games, Halloween Show, Fireworks Display, Christmas Lights Switch On Parade, Winter Wonderland and 15,000 capacity Red Hot Highland Fling Hogmanay Show, among other events, and have provided a huge boost to our city’s economy.

These have combined to being one of the major successes for Inverness throughout the year. And there is no doubting how much they were missed during the traumatic past 15 months we’ve had.

But now it has been decided that the council’s events programme must be “revitalised and refreshed” as a matter of urgency.

The time freed up by lockdown has been used – some might say wasted – by the council to review the steps which need to be taken for this process.

And their new strategy will take the bureaucracy associated with the delivery of the programme and its creative content to a whole new level.

The events programme will now be delivered by the council’s arms-length charity High Life Highland; who will be guided by a new “City of Inverness Area Events Creative Forum”; who will report to the “Inverness Events and Festivals Working Group”; who will report to the City of Inverness Area Committee.

How much scope is there for bickering, dithering and bungling among that lot?

If it was decided that the events programme really needed “revitalising and refreshing” the expectation might be that a modestly-funded source of pleasure and enjoyment to many, which greatly enhances city life throughout the year, would be allocated a bit more money.

Instead, councillors also agreed to slash the events budget by £37,000 to £303,000 which is a massive £57,000 less than the Inverness Events programme received when it was first launched over a decade ago.

Amid wastage associated with the council – tens of thousands of pounds of council money being spent on the much-reviled and wholly unnecessary “Gathering Place” as the most glaring example – I believe the series of events held in the Highland capital in recent years really have delivered value for money.

The Highland Games has been a highlight of the summer.

Thousands of parents and their wide-eyed children have enjoyed the Ness Islands Halloween Show every year, and it may be one event in particular that kids never forget.

The same could be said of the Bught Park fireworks and bonfire night, with thousands again attending it every year.

The Christmas Lights Switch On Parade has been an annual spectacular, and couldn’t we have done with Winter Wonderland to enliven and cheer up the city over the last grey and gloomy festive season?

Other events like the 15,000 capacity Red Hot Highland Fling Hogmanay Show have provided a huge boost to our city’s economy, and have more than paid their way.

These have combined to be a major success story, not only for the city but for the council as well.

People complain about many things associated with the local authority, whether rightly or wrongly.

But I’ve never heard anyone saying the Islands Halloween night show was boring, or the bonfire night was a damp squib, or Winter Wonderland was dull and colourless, or the Hogmanay celebrations were off-key and lacked fun, flair and vigour.

In my experience the reaction has been quite the opposite. Events like these in recent years have grown from nothing to become mainstays of popular enjoyment for thousands of people throughout the city.

A lot of work must have gone on behind the scenes to bring them to fruition. But folk, understandably, aren’t interested in that. All they want is the enjoyment they bring. And the barren experience of last year only brought out how much they’re missed.

Time will tell whether a “revitalised and refreshed” events programme but with less money spent on it will be as successful as what has been presented in previous years.

And time will tell whether High Life Highland can deliver.

But they have a lot to live up to.

And it would – almost literally for children – be a crying shame if the upheaval in messing about with the marvellous city success story of recent years got bogged down in bureaucracy, was thrown off course by underfunding and ended up being another victim of the council’s increasing tendency to force through changes just for the sake of it.

Go back to the apparent origins of this, namely the council’s “Chief Executive Officer – Transformation”.

Do we really need a no doubt very highly paid “Chief Executive Officer – Transformation”?

And do we really need so much in Inverness, like the already hugely successful events programme, to be “transformed”?

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