It was revealed earlier this week on BBC Radio Leeds that Yorkshire councils will be dipping into various budgets to pay for the 'Grand Depart' of the Tour de France next year. The famous cycle race starts in Leeds next year on 5 July. Wakefield Council plans to spend £100,000 from its public health budget even though none of the race will take place in Wakefield. Kirklees Council is taking £672,000 from its jobs & growth fund, Bradford is dipping into its reserves to the tune of £731,000, and Leeds Council is taking £360,000 from its capital programmes. A total of around £6 million will be taken from various budgets by councils in West Yorkshire, and all of this money is on top the cash already spent to win the right to start the race in Yorkshire.
Councils will argue that the 'Grand Depart' will be a money spinner for Yorkshire and will showcase the county to the world. I don't disagree with that assessment, however at a time when councils are reducing spending, why don't they think of alternatives to constantly dipping into taxpayers' money? How is taking £672,000 from the jobs & growth fund in Kirklees going to help jobs & growth there? This is what the leader of Kirklees Council, Mehboob Khan, had to say:
The return on our investment through the spending of the visitors expected in the region will be many times what we are paying. It is the biggest sporting event in the world and one billion TV viewers will see the Tour in Kirklees, in addition to all those who come here.
This still doesn't explain how hundreds or thousands of new jobs are going to be created. I watch some of the stages of the Tour de France on television. To be honest, I couldn't tell you where most of the stages take place. The cyclists race by at such a speed, you don't have time to appreciate the surroundings. I can't imagine many people around the world watching the race immediately thinking of taking a holiday in Huddersfield.
When asked what Bradford Council was getting for its £731,000, city councillor, Andrew Thornton, mentioned some of the money would be spent getting the roads up to standard, something the council should be doing anyway. (A recording of his interview and my response is at the bottom of this post)
The main benefit to those parts of Yorkshire staging the event will be cycling enthusiasts wanting to watch the race live. No doubt local hotels will be fully booked at the time, and bars and restaurants will have a roaring trade - at least for a couple of days. Then everything will go back to normal again. Some taxpayers' money will inevitably be spent, but an additional £6 million out of already stretched council budgets cannot be justified.
Why are councils not thinking about getting commercial sponsorship to mitigate some of the costs? Surely many local, regional and national businesses would like to be associated with the Tour de France and would be willing to put their money where their mouth is? Last year's Paralympic Games were sponsored by Sainsbury's. Other cultural events are regularly sponsored by companies in the towns and cities they take place. Why haven't councils thought of this?
Although it doesn't make sense to me why the Tour de France is starting somewhere other than France, I am not a killjoy. All I ask is for councils to think of alternatives before collectively committing around £6 million of taxpayers' money, taken from budgets it was not intended for.
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