Parties clash over future of Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival

A political row broke out last night at the full meeting of Pendle Borough Council over the future of Colne's Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival.

Friday, 1st October 2021, 3:45 pm
Crowds at the festival in 2017
Crowds at the festival in 2017

The ruling Conservative group and their Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents clashed over the future of the event, following Colne Town Council's shock decision last week to permanently cancel it in its present form.

Labour accused the Tories of refusing to back a motion seconded by Labour councillors which would have given the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival the financial security it required to go ahead in August 2022.

However, the Conservatives claimed they had pushed to secure the long term future of the Blues Festival through a charitable trust run by local people and businesses, "removing the politics and putting the control back into the hands of the public."

A public meeting into the future of the festival is set to be held on October 12th at the Colne Muni.

Coun. Nadeem Ahmed, leader of Pendle Council said: “This is an important first step in securing the long term future of the Blues Festival for years to come.

"Now the people of Pendle can go to the public meeting on October 12th, knowing full well that the Conservative-run Pendle Council is on their side, and demand to have control of their festival given back to them in the form of a charitable trust.

"Discussions can now begin with local people and businesses to establish this trust.

"I was frankly aghast at the attempts to stop this important topic being discussed, the naked bid to win yet more cash for the town council that gave up on the Blues in favour of a nebulous, cut price summer music festival, the smokescreen that somehow the Tories must be to blame for this sorry state of affairs and finally, the way the opposition parties all sat on their hands while we secured a firm future for the borough’s nationally renowned Blues Festival."

However, Labour leader Coun. Mohammed Iqbal accused the Tories of playing politics and said their motions risked putting the festival in jeopardy.

He said “It was evidently clear that the Tories were attempting to play politics with the people of Pendle by saying outside the chamber how they wanted to protect the festival, but when it came to the crunch they refused to underwrite the event instead putting forward a motion which will take months to implement putting into jeopardy the festival which has been running for 30 years."

Chairman of Colne Labour, Coun. Wayne Blackburn added: "The people of Colne need to challenge Colne Conservative councillors if indeed they really care about the festival going ahead or are they more concerned on playing politics with the people of Colne.

"They had a chance to support the festival but have now once again put it into jeopardy with their refusal to support the motion last night.”

The following motion was passed at that meeting:

The iconic Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival has been a staple event in Pendle for over 30 years. Almost every year since its creation, we have seen tens of thousands of people flock to Colne town centre, enjoying the music and helping to boost the local economy.

Following the unexpected cancellation of the Blues Festival by the Lib Dem controlled Colne Town Council, without consulting the public, the outcry from both the public and local businesses has been massive. A petition was setup almost immediately by a member of the public and within days it has been signed by over 5,000 people.

Given the public outcry, the Council resolves to:

1. Immediately contact Colne Town Council seeking urgent clarification on their intentions for the 2022 Blues Festival.

2. Urgently investigate options for Pendle Borough Council to assist the delivery of the Blues Festival in 2022.

3. Work with the public and local businesses, to establish a charitable trust which can take on the Festival in the coming years, protecting the Festival’s long-term future.

4. Request Colne Town Council transfer the copyright of the name of the Festival to Pendle Borough Council until such a time that the Charitable Trust can be established, and the naming rights be transferred to them.

5. Request that control of the mailing list and website for the Blues Festival be transferred to Pendle Borough Council, until a trust is established.

6. Ask officers to investigate if the Blues Festival qualifies for funding from the Government’s Additional Restrictions Grant, NESTA Cultural Impact Development Fund, Arts Council England National Lottery Projects Grants, Culture Recovery Fund: Emergency Resource Support, Music for All - Community Project Funding and PRS Foundation - Open Fund for Organisations and prepare applications if the “New Blues” meets the criteria of these funds and others.

7. Ask officers to investigate if any of the millions of pounds of funding given to the council from the Government to tackle Covid and aid recovery, would be available to help deliver the Blues Festival should Pendle Council be required to deliver the festival in 2022.