Council chiefs claim Leeds's doomed 2023 European Capital of Culture bid is casualty of 'Brexit negotiations'

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Leeds's 2023 European Capital of Culture bid was a casualty of Brexit negotiations, senior council chiefs have claimed.

And the cost could be more than just pride - as the cash spent putting Leeds's bid together has been revealed.

The city's bid was shot down last month after the EU Commission said it UK cities would no longer be eligible for the title once Britain has exited the EU.
In the latest inquest carried out in the fallout of that decision, Leeds City Council's Scrutiny Board (Inclusive Growth, Culture and Sport) yesterday discussed the progress being made to salvage the bid.

The meeting was told it it is "unlikely" that the eligibility decision will be reversed by the EU.

Council officers also revealed the financial cost bore by the council - and the private sector - in the quest to be named European capital in 2023.

The meeting was told that the council's cash spend was £155,000, while the private and education sector spending added up to at least £650,000.

Tom Riordan, the council's chief executive, told the meeting: "Our understanding is that it will be unlikely that there will be a change of heart."

He said it was "patently obvious" to him that the decision to exclude UK cities was "linked to the Brexit negotiations".

Mr Riordan said: "I think the Government was surprised as well as us and I think that in the conversation that I have had it was a question that was asked [about risk].

"Our expectation was that it was going ahead and there was a risk that we might not win."

He said the bid should now “drive our cultural strategy” over the next 10 years.

Coun Alan Lamb (Con), chairman of the board, told the meeting: "There was always a possibility before the announcement that we wouldn't win.

"There was a plan for what would happen if that was the case.

"It was disgraceful. For all the cities, to let them get this far down the line and spend the money."

However, he said it was not the time to blame the council and insisted the blame lies with the EU Commission who "behaved appallingly".

While the European Capital of Culture bid appears to be ruled out, the meeting briefly discussed the possibility of Leeds staging its own "Year of 2023".

Coun Sandy Lay said he wanted to see the city's cultural ambitions continue.

He told the meeting: “In the end, it appears that we have been pushing at a closed door.

“There was always a chance of us losing it any way to one of the other bidders and I ask that whatever happens, that we continue to show the same cultural ambitions in the future."

Council leader Judith Blake spoke about being invited to Newcastle ahead of the 2008 European Capital of Culture winner announcement, where she said there was champagne on ice.

“But it went to Liverpool,” Coun Blake told the meeting.

She said that Newcastle didn’t stop, but immediately used the work on their failed bid as a strategy going forward for culture in the city.

“The energy and commitment [in Leeds] over the last few years has been phenomenal and we want to keep that going," she added.

Tom Riordan said part of Leeds's problem in getting the city's name "out there", is that many of the city's cultural institutions don't have 'Leeds' in their name, like Opera North and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

He said that whatever the outcome of the 2023 bid, it has "got our name out there".

Mr Riordan said there were some exciting ideas from philanthropists and the private sector coming forward following the work on the 2023 bid, which would bring "real tangible benefits" over the next two years.