New way needed for Ceòlas 2012

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HIGHLANDS and Islands Enterprise has been blasted for not looking towards the future by South Uist music festival Ceòlas as the 2012 event faces funding jeopardy.

It appears that the long standing event – which first began in 1996 – could struggle to perform next year in the face of public funding cuts.

“Survival was priority for 2011,” stated organiser Mary Schmoller. “For 2012 a new development plan and strategy will have to be drawn up, especially in light of the Feasibility Study currently being carried out for Ceòlas by Dunira Strategy of Edinburgh.”

Ms Schmoller added that the community board will meet in August to make strategic decisions about the future of the festival, based on the outcome of this year’s figures; and that organisers would be meeting with relevant funders this week in a bid to seek financial security.

Reports last week detailed the withdrawal of funding allocation from Highlands and Islands Enterprise – totalling £20,000 – to the music initiative, as well as drops from other supporting bodies, including Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

However, commenting on the situation, a Highlands and Islands spokesperson detailed: “HIE contributed £20,000 to Ceòlas last year. This year, information provided by Ceòlas showed that they were more than able to fund their planned programme from other sources.

“We advised them that HIE cannot subsidise projects which appear to be fully funded already. As it happens, Ceòlas did not apply for HIE funding this year.”

The spokesperson confirmed that HIE had no ongoing contract with Ceòlas, and that reports of ‘axed’ funding were therefore incorrect.

“All HIE funding is discretionary and awarded on a case by case basis – based on need and the economic and social impacts which such funding will generate,” they continued.

“Ceòlas was adequately resourced to stage an excellent festival this year, therefore no further public funding from HIE was required.”

The spokesperson added: “HIE has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Ceòlas and fully expect this to continue. We are actively engaged with them at present about their development plans.”

Ms Schmoller commented that it was felt this attitude reflected a ‘total lack of understanding’ about ongoing projects, and said: “You cannot run the account down to zero and then start planning for the coming year – rent and bills have to be paid in the planning process too – and funders run their finances from April to April, our accounts close on August 31 to commence for the following year.”

A confusion in figures appears to have increased hyped funding fears as reports also stated a reduction in support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig from £17,000 to just £7,000.

Clarifying, a Bòrd spokesperson expanded that Ceòlas had been successful in securing £10,000 – “the level at which Bòrd na Gàidhlig has consistently funded the event” – and that a one-off additional sum of £7,000 was agreed for the music festival in 2010 to offer additional assistance with a confrence held by the organisation in South Uist.

They added: “Therefore, on a like-for-like basis, the Bòrd’s assistance remains unchanged at £10,000.”

Head of Gaelic Usage at the Bòrd, David Boag, commented: “Bòrd na Gàidhlig recognises that events like Ceòlas, held in Gaelic communities, offer linguistic and economic benefits.

“The possible funding difficulties that face Ceòlas have been brought to our attention and we would be very willing to discuss with the committee, and other funding organisations, a plan for Ceòlas that supports the aims of Bòrd na Gàidhlig.”

In light of funding concerns, the Comhairle detailed that it has supported the South Uist event through a three-year Service Level Agreement to the value of £10,000 per annum over the years 2009 through 2011.

“For year ending 2012 support of £9,500 was agreed through Comataidh Buileachadh Planan Canan in February 2011,” stated a council spokesperson. “This figure therefore represents a £500 reduction.”

The spokesperson continued: “It is always disappointing to have to reduce the level of funding to an important organisation such as Ceòlas.

“The £500 reduction is felt to be proportionate, however, and reflects the type of efficiency that the Comhairle has to seek from our partner organisations in light of the present funding available to the Comhairle.

“The Comhairle very much appreciates the important work being undertaken by Ceòlas and will seek to continue to work to support Ceòlas over the coming period.”