A senior councillor is demanding Brussels bureaucrats pay back the £1 million spent on putting together Leeds’s seemingly doomed bid for the European Capital of Culture title in 2023.
Coun Andrew Carter, leader of the main opposition Conservative group on Leeds City Council, was speaking in the wake of the European Commission’s decision last week to cancel the UK’s planned hosting of the prestigious year following the Brexit vote.
Leeds’s bid team had been due to meet the judging panel today – alongside representatives of the other UK cities competing for the title – before the plug was seemingly pulled last week.
The overall estimated cost of the Leeds bid is £1m, with £200,000 of that being from the council.
Up to this point, the council has spent £155,000, with the rest coming from sponsors and the private sector.
Coun Carter said: “Let’s face it, the European Commission has known since June last year, 17 months ago, that Britain was leaving the EU.
“If indeed it is not possible for us therefore to participate in the European City of Culture, they should have made it clear then, not allow five cities in the UK to spend thousands of pounds preparing a bid. It is simply unacceptable.
“We should be seeking clarification. We should then be seeking compensation from the EU for all the money that has been spent by British cities and an explanation as to why it’s taken them 17 months to reach this decision and only making an announcement days before judging took place.
“Even the most ardent of ‘Remoaner’ has surely to admit this shows the European Union at its petty and bureaucratic worst.”
He further urged the council’s cross-party scrutiny system to “get to the bottom of what assurances we were given”.
The Yorkshire Evening Post understands discussions are still taking place between Leeds’s bid team, the council and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on what might happen next, with further clarification expected by the end of the week.
Earlier this week, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was urged to intervene and allow a British city to be named the European Capital of Culture despite Brexit.
In a letter to Mr Juncker, MPs representing the five contenders for the title – including Leeds – urged him to allow the process to continue.
They told him: “We find it inexplicable that the European Union waited until after the bids from the United Kingdom had been submitted before ruling them all ineligible, when it has been aware of the United Kingdom’s decision since June 2016. Politics should not interfere with what is in many ways an event intended to bridge cultural and political divides.”
As well as Leeds, four other different UK bids were competing to host the 2023 European Capital of Culture, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on their entries.
Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Dundee and a joint Belfast-Londonderry-Strabane bid were all in the running for the culture accolade, which has the potential to provide a significant economic boost.
HOW PLANS FOR 2023 BECAME A ‘CONCRETE CONSEQUENCE’ OF BREXIT
The row over the post-Brexit fate of Leeds 2023 broke a week ago, when Brussels decided to pull the plug on a UK bid just days before judging was due.
Objectors have pointed out that cities in Norway, Iceland, Turkey and Serbia have held or will hold capital of culture status, although they acknowledged that all were either within the European Economic Area or candidate countries to join the EU, the grounds for eligibility set for the competition.
British MPs have issued a “polite reminder” to the European Commission that the UK is still a member of the European Union and that no decision has yet been made as to what a future relationship will look like.
However, the Commission insisted earlier that the position was “one of the many concrete consequences” of Brexit.
The move was described as a “volte face” by some within the Leeds 2023 bid team.
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said it was “shocking”, and that “to have the rug pulled from under us at this late stage would be a huge blow”.