City music festival feels the squeeze

Reverend & The Makers performing at Tramlines
Reverend & The Makers performing at Tramlines
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FINANCIAL pressures are tightening on Sheffield’s big music festival, Tramlines, with organisers indicating this week that they are preparing to charge for some elements for the first time.

On top of a halving of council grant, it was revealed that the festival’s main sponsor, the mobile phone company Nokia, is expected to pull out.

Tramlines, which has grown over three years to attract crowds of 165,000 over a weekend in July, is one of several Sheffield major events that will share some of the pain from the council’s budget cuts of £50m over the next year.

Organisers of Fright Night, Sheffield’s Hallowe’en celebrations, are assessing whether it can remain viable. Altogether, the council is preparing to reduce its funding by £350,000 for Tramlines, Fright Night, the Off The Shelf literary festival, the Children’s Festival, the Cliffhanger outdoors festival, the Christmas lights switch-on and the Great Yorkshire Run.

The Tramlines team is aiming to stage another big event in the city centre and at venues across the city next year, but it is looking for new ways of generating income to reflect not only the smaller council grant, but the austere climate in sponsorship.

A statement this week said: “We have been very lucky to enjoy sponsorship from Nokia for the past two years, which has helped build the event and allowed us to put on great shows like Heaven 17 and Reverend and the Makers. It has also made a significant contribution to the running of the festival.

“We are awaiting a final decision from Nokia but, with the shifting economic climate, we are not expecting them to return in 2013, leaving a significant gap in the festival’s finances.

“Every year, we have charged retailers more for the food and drink concessions on the stages to contribute to our increasing costs. However, we have reached saturation point from this source of revenue and, in the case of the food units, we are expecting a decrease in income next year to respond to our food retailers’ universal feedback that the food rents were too high.”

The statement adds: “We would like to stress that the decision to charge is not simply down to how much the council will or won’t put into the event.

“Putting on a party for 100,000 people isn’t cheap and even without a cut in the council budget next year, we would have probably had to make this decision. Sheffield City Council have been a fantastic ally in building this event and we have nothing but praise for them in what are extremely difficult circumstances.”

Festival director Sarah Nulty said: “We’ve managed to stay free for four years which is an unbelievable achievement. We want to keep it going and we want to keep it free, but it is getting hard.”

The cost of running Tramlines has risen from £200,000 to £390,000 as numbers of visitors have risen, buoyed by free admission. The council grant is being cut from £86,000 to £42,000.

Ramifications of proposed council cuts are now being seen across the city.

l Fright Night scare, Libraries plea, page 5;

l Fight to save leisure centre, Clegg’s Don Valley plea, page 7.