Spending watchdogs are to investigate management at Manchester City Council, following complaints over its decision to stage a recent Alicia Keys concert. The gig took place on 24 September in the city’s stunning cathedral, at a staggering cost of £425,000. Some £250,000 of this sum came from a European regeneration fund set up for the purpose of attracting investment to Manchester. The remaining £175,000 came from the town-hall budget.
Bosses have defended spending this sum at a time of vast cutbacks, claiming that the event was a necessary advert about Manchester’s capabilities to the rest of the world. While only 1,000 people were able to attend the concert, MTV broadcast it as part of its MTV Crashes series, together with a show about the city’s musical heritage and current cultural scene. Council assistant chief executive Sara Tomkins argued that the global coverage would generate “an expected media value in excess of £6.6m”.
However, the calculation process behind that figure has not yet been divulged – and Taxpayers’ Alliance political director Jonathan Isaby described the budget as “quite shocking, particularly at a time when money is so tight”. The issue is now under discussion in the Council’s Finance Scrutiny Committee, with a detailed report to follow.
Certainly, the global-showcase arguments seem flimsy at best: compared to free-to-air channels, MTV’s viewing figures are miniscule, and coverage of the concert would be unlikely to be eclipse that of any normal Keys gig in the city. Furthermore, Manchester’s musical heritage is already the stuff of legend, and has received a free-publicity boost this year with the reformation of The Stone Roses. Quite how a one-off concert by the New York-born Keys can be viewed as a contribution to the city’s cultural legacy is very much unclear.