Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Big Screen in Hull

Readers who live in the Hull and East Riding area will no doubt be aware of Hull City Council’s decision to ‘pull the plug’ on the Big Screen in the city’s Queen Victoria Square. The news broke last Thursday and the first I heard about it was a call from the Hull Daily Mail. I was then asked if I would do an interview on BBC Radio Humberside last Friday.

The power was switched off today and the story is still rumbling as the former Labour leader of the council, Colin Inglis, entered the fray to defend his decision five years ago to buy the screen at a cost of £650,000. I think some clarification is required.

Cllr Inglis wrote the following on the Hull Daily Mail website earlier today:

For the record, we wanted a screen for the 2004 Olympics when the BBC offered us a deal, which given their then recent multi-million pound investment in Hull (not popular at the HDM, I know) and our desire to keep them sweet, it was hard to refuse. We had a limited window of opportunity to say yes hence the decision route used in the Council's Recess period. The project was meant to be part of a wider refurbishment of Victoria Square, untouched for twenty years, not removing Queen Victoria, or her toilets, which later administrations never finished, as seems so often to be the case in Hull. The money for it had been raised as part of the KC share sale, ie not Council Tax or government grant, it was capital, not revenue funding so could only be spent on building or refurbishing something or buying some large item and had already been earmarked for work in the city centre.

Firstly, I would like to remind Cllr Inglis money raised from the sale of shares of Kingston Communications is still public money and it still needs to be spent wisely. All too often our elected representatives act like children in a candy store with money like this. What he should have done is explore other possibilities. There is an alternative to buying, such as leasing. The location of the screen should have been given great thought. It could have been part of a wider plan of redevelopment. Rushing into a decision, without consulting other councillors, was wrong. A business plan should have been drawn up and advertisers and sponsors found. This is what any responsible leader would have done. Unfortunately, this was not done and the screen has been a controversial addition to the city since its installation.

With thought and planning this project could have been a success. The screen could have been an asset and revenue could have been generated for the council. As it stands, I fully support Hull City Council’s decision to remove the screen and look for a buyer. It would cost £250,000 to keep the screen going for another three years. It would cost £100,000 to remove and screen and place it in a different location. The taxpayers of Hull quite rightly want their money spent wisely and want lower council tax bills and better council services. Spending huge sums of money on a giant television set that hardly anyone looks at and the majority have never wanted, can not be justified. I am not opposed to Hull having a big screen, however, it has to be properly thought through, unlike the decision made behind closed doors in 2004.

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