The Tour De France is great news for York but also needs a business case

Tour de France logoHosting the Tour De France is a huge opportunity for York and Yorkshire, but a time of cuts to local government budgets the delivery plans must be watertight.

When it was announced last year that York was to host Stage 2 of next year’s Tour De France, I was excited. So were most residents of the city.

The Tour is the most prestigious cycle race in the world and reckoned to be the biggest annual sporting event on the planet. With 188 countries broadcasting the event, the media exposure is probably only beaten by the Summer Olympics and the Football World Cup.

Anyone who has watched the event, either in France or when it last crossed the Channel in 2007, will know size of the event and the passion of the fans.

I could go on… for the bigness of the race and the glory of the event is indisputable. However, it appears that in the excitement of ‘the biggest race in the world’ coming to town many key questions and issues have been overlooked.

This is why at this month’s full council I asked Labour-run City of York Council to produce a full business case for its investment in the event. While I argued that residents have a right to know what the Council expects to spend and where the money will come from – all 22 Labour Councillors voted against it.

York Council’s current budget for the event is £1.6 million – £1.3 million from the Council and almost £300,000 from Government. These costs have slowly crept up over recent months. Originally the Council spent £50,000 to secure the race, then it was a £500,000 hosting fee, and earlier this month a further £870,000 was put into staging the event.

When the exact route is announced many expect these costs to increase as York’s pothole strewn roads are examined and resurfacing work is earmarked. However, York Council is apparently yet to work out which budgets this would come from.

In terms of income projection – we have yet to see any detailed information on how and when York expects to see a return on this investment. At the moment, the business case seems little more than some back-of-a-fag-packet projections. We need robust performance measurements in place so we can judge whether the event has been the success it could be for local businesses and residents.

At a time of cuts to local government in York, any expenditure on these sorts of projects needs to be detailed and argued. Over the last two-and-a half years the Labour council has cut budgets on road repairs (ironically), street cleaning, libraries, social care, litter and salt bins and funding for ward committees.

Residents are rightly asking me how spending £1.3 million on staging the Tour De France can be right when their basic services are being cut. It is difficult to answer these concerns without seeing a proper business case or knowing how the success of the event will be judged. It really worries me that the potential benefit of the event might be missed if we don’t have a proper business plan in place.

The Tour de France is a great opportunity to show the world what I already know – that York is a fantastic place, a place that knows how to put on a good show. But in doing so the council must not forget that it is taxpayers’ money they are spending and we need more than the vague estimates and promises offered by the Labour council so far.

However exciting staging the Tour might be, we need to make sure we get it right. And a full business case is the best way of achieving that.

* Keith Aspden has been the Councillor for Fulford Ward in York since 2003. He was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group in May 2013

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