Festival Criteria Is Very Shaky

28 Jun

The situation on festivals is shaky and that’s being polite. I have never had so much criticism about the way Wag have set out their criteria and then allowed some festivals to ignore it. As expected this year, festival funding has been slashed to £368,521.36 and only 31 festivals are being supported. Last year 57 festivals were supported with a budget of £529,125,70. With such budget slash, I think most people would have expected Wag to have applied just a little commonsense as to how they could give the taxpayer best-value–for-money by making best use of the funding they’ve been allocated. First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Indeed, it is estimated that the overall economic impact of Welsh food festivals on their host communities is annually as much as £20.3m. There is a positive knock-on effect on employment in rural areas too with around 1,125 jobs linked to food festivals”.

I’m unsure whether Mr Jones is saying these figures are from last year when he funded 57 events with nearly £530k and the economic impact of £20.3m. Well £20.3m is no mean figure, so why then with such a strong economic impact, has our festival budget been slashed so harshly that Wag is now only funding 31 festivals instead of 57. Isn’t that surely going to reduce the effect of the economic impact, not to mention the impact of 1,125 jobs? I wish my limited brain power could get to grips with political thinking.    

I’ve heard so many times from Wag’s higher management that they want food festivals to be self-supporting, so if that’s the case, why are the three largest festivals: Abergavenny, (£52k) Cardiff (£37,550) and Conwy (£41k), being given nearly £131k out of this year’s budget? All these three festivals applied for the same amount of money they received last year and got it – no budget cuts there – but why not? In 08/09, Abergavenny got £37,360, Cardiff £30k and Conwy £24,665, so Wag’s self-supporting theory, is obviously that, theory. Whilst in practice these three festivals have had increasing money thrown into their rather large pots. Any chance Wag that you can clarify your self-supporting theory? 

Wag’s criteria for this year, insists that festivals have ‘food as the core activity.’

An easy example of this was that the Smallholder was shown the red card by Wag, even though Steve Shearman had been asked years ago to run this event for them. But panic not, there will be a Food Hall at the RWAS or the Winter Fair, as Wag runs both these events and funds them out of a different budget. Please don’t ask me how much those two events cost as the only way I’d get a partial answer will be to send through a Freedom Of Information question again, but a partial answer doesn’t solve the problem. 

Crymch Food & Craft festival, which has run for years, has decided not to run this year because of the, ‘food as the core activity’. Even though their food and craft were held in two separate areas, they guessed wouldn’t fund it. However Llandysul, which as far as I’m aware has had a similar split of food and craft stalls, ran again this year and were funded by Wag £9k, a reduction of £500.00 on last year. Now how can this anomaly have occurred? Wag gave Abergavenny based Miller Research, the task of visiting all their funded festivals and reporting back to them. I’ve asked for a copy of this report as I know a producer has too, but despite the fact that the organisers had their copies months ago, I’m still waiting for mine. Does that mean my copy might be edited before I get it? So how did Wag make their decisions this year? As food was not the core activity in Llandysul in previous years, why were they funded again this year? What did the Miller Research report say about Llandysul and who made the final decision for it to be funded again?

I had a press release yesterday from Hay on Wye festival, which is excellent, because despite 31 festivals being funded I shall be lucky to get 10 press releases in total from them. If festivals don’t send out press releases, they cannot possibly get any publicity and if they don’t get publicity where do the visitors come from. Festival organisers have a duty to the producers to ensure that they do their utmost to generate publicity and get people through their gates. I’m fed-up of hearing from organisers that ‘they don’t have an advertising budget’ what is core accurate is that they haven’t allocated money to advertise their event, but instead spending money on expensive chefs and aren’t bothering to tell their traders what they are doing. Traders pay their money up front and in good faith and organisers should communicate with them their plans for their event. Anyway back to Hay press releases, in the first paragraph it said busy event and estimated 4,000 people there and in the second paragraph at least 5,000 people. Well guess you can take your choice but it does raise two issues, who counted all those people as I understand it’s a free event and where on earth in Hay did all those people manage to park their cars?            

You only have to read welshfoodbites to see what massive interest and concern there is about food festivals. Regular readers will know that Wag Food Press Office have since March, refused to answer any questions from me, in case I blog it and upset as they say they have no right of reply! Well I’ve had had to remind them that when Wag food were working with us in 2008 and 2009 there was no negative food news at all published in Welsh Country magazine. Yet behind the scenes, that was a different matter. No-one should under-estimate the amount of hard work that was going behind the scenes whilst my team tried to get some communication going between the food producers and Wag. The Press Office then told me not to talk to Wag officials directly, but to talk to them. When that system didn’t work too well, I decided to create welshfoodbites in July 2010. Initially the idea was to use it for questions I wasn’t getting answers to, but in effect it has provided a forum for all foodies to air their views and ask their questions.

As far as Welsh Country is concerned, Wag sadly has now had negative coverage. We were waiting and waiting for the list of food festivals which was promised, but again did not arrive so that was published. I have no intention at all of apologizing for doing this, in fact Wag should be very grateful I haven’t devoted pages of welshfoodbites in every issue of Welsh Country. My reason for not doing so is not to save their blushes, because in the world of Wag, nothing is ever wrong. Wag appear to work under the B.S.E. rule, Blame Someone Else. The only reason, so far that I’m holding back is that I feel I should try and paint a picture of positivity in our Welsh food world. The only worry for Wag now is my pot of paint is running very, very low ……………………..……..


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  1. Disappointed Trader

    June 29, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Full credit to Andrew who ran Hay festival last weekend. Plenty of entertainment and a good mix of traders (myself included) – but 4 or 5 thousand people attended? Somewhat of an over estimation – if there were that many people they didnt all pass thru the food marquee.

    I do not understand why the three big festivals get the majority share of the WAG money. The costs to traders has increased greatly over the last few years to the extent that I no longer got to Abergavenny as it just costs too much – they don’t seem to want the small producers anymore. Cardiff International want £250 just to be at the farmers market – when you make £1 on a sale you need to sell a lot just to make back the attendance fee – let alone the fuel cost. Did no-one notice the fact that there were far fewer stands in the food hall at the Smallholders Show this year? Or at the West Wales Food Festival at the Botanic Gardens? Why? Cost. So many fellows traders are just not going to events anymore because of the increased costs. We are passionate about our products, and want to be able to offer them to the public, but the increasing costs means the opportunity to do so is shrinking every year!

  2. admin

    June 30, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Having done this festival with the welsh country tradestand a few years ago and not broken even any modest trading records, I always found it annoying to be then told 4,000 people had attended, because then you have to query yourself if that’s true I should have taken a fortune!!!! Anyway my feedback on Hay has been quite good – which in this climate is more than ok.
    I’m not sure where to go to to challenge further how this year’s funding was allocated, but I’ll give that more thought.
    I think the other critical point is that organsiers have little understanding of how traders make their money, how low their margins really are. If they did, putting up tradestand prices would not be their obvious option and a huge effort in PR & Marketing and getting more people through the door, would be a priority. I do feel that by getting traders onto festival committees might be a help, in that you’d at least have a voice.
    Smallholder were in a no-win situation this year with Wag pulling ALL their funding – their only option was to increase their prices, which goes against what I have just said but it was either that or not have a food hall at all. Smallholder should not have been put in this postion by Wag. One of my local festivals, Llandysul got £9k and Smallholder nothing, but it’s easy to work out reasonably who was doing the better job for local food.
    I think the saddest thing is our First Minister thinks they are doing a great job for Wales – maybe we should get the producers a meeting with him……………?

  3. Jammie

    July 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    it’s about time the producers sttod up to wag and stop them not only playing a big bully with kath but bullying us too
    how can you run a department when you ignore the basics, like talking to your producers wag?
    we really have had enough of your attitude to us. treat us with some respect.

  4. BSE

    July 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    BSE – that made me lol
    Blame Someone Else – yes that sums up wag
    we have got the wag people we deserve – we’ve just never had the bottle to challenge them. Now we have a fabulous magazine with a massive interest in food and this website which is nothing short of brilliant.
    well done guys keep pushing them they have had life far too easy, for far too long