Council defends spending almost £250,000 on celebrities

Texas performed as part of the Soundwaves 2014 concert.
Texas performed as part of the Soundwaves 2014 concert.
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Council bosses have splash out almost £250,000 on bringing famous faces to South Tyneside in the last three years.

The borough's annual South Tyneside Summer Festival Sunday Concerts always see a host of celebrities taking to the stage in Bents Park, South Shields.

The free events attract thousands, with last Sunday's gig seeing 24,000 people flock to see Alexandra Burke and fellow reality talent show stars.

However, a Freedom of Information request has revealed that celebrities appearing in the borough were paid £142,950 in 2014/15 and £90,000 in 2015/16.

Among those who performed at the free concerts were B*Witched, Shayne Ward, Atomic Kitten and the Feeling. The amount also covers payment for Joe McElderry and S Club 3's appearances at Christmas light switch on events.

In October 2014 the Gazette revealed that summer's Soundwaves Concert - which was ticketed - had made a loss of £60,000 after stars were paid £103,015 and just 3,300 people attended.

South Tyneside Council has not revealed how much each individual act was paid, but the total fees spent between 2014 and 2016 was £232,950.

However, council bosses say the money is well spent as it attracts millions in tourism.

A council spokesman said: “In terms of negotiating fees with artists, we operate on a budget and book acts within this envelop.

“We have good relationships with artists’ agents and the South Tyneside Festival is held in high regard due to its longevity and the large crowds it attracts. As such, this ensures we receive extremely good value on the fees we negotiate.

“The 2015 Festival was the most successful in its 27-year history. Overall attendance was 123,250 which is a 23% increase on the 2014 figure.

“Tourism supports thousands of jobs in South Tyneside, and visitors to our seafront festival last year spent an estimated at £1.479m which represents a 30% increase on the 2014 figure.

“Tourism is worth over £200m a year to the local economy and our investment in music and festival events is a vital part of our work to create jobs and regenerate the area.”

But members of the TaxPayers' alliance have a different view.

Harry Davis, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “If councils genuinely believe having Z-listers turning on lights or appearing at events helps bring shoppers to the area, perhaps instead of taking money out of taxpayers’ pockets they could encourage the private sector to help cover the costs.

“All areas of the public sector should be looking for savings, so every pound spent of taxpayers’ money has to be justified.

“Council tax is a huge burden on hard-pressed families and they expect their money to go towards front line services, not on has-been singers.”