City of Culture bid is pulled

Lancashire has pulled out of the race to become the UK City of Culture in 2025.

As first revealed by Lancashire Business View, the decision has been made by the county council just three weeks before an official expression of interest was due to be submitted.

Lancashire has been working on a county-wide bid for three years, with organisers saying their mission was to produce an “ambitious, inclusive cultural programme”.

The decision to withdraw has been made amid concerns about the financial underwriting of the bid and the potential exposure of the local authority to risk.

In a statement Councillor Alan Vincent, council deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “We have carefully considered the potential costs and benefits of the bid and have decided that Lancashire County Council can no longer underwrite it.

“We know this will be disappointing to those who have worked so hard on this project over the past couple of years, but feel it is the right decision for Lancashire County Council.

“Whilst the proposal was strong and ambitious, we felt that underwriting the bid to the tune of up to £22m created too great a financial risk to the council at a time when there are significant pressures on services and our costs, and continuing financial uncertainty following the pandemic.

“Lancashire County Council remains committed to an ongoing programme of arts and culture which is both good for the county's residents and local economy.

“We are continuing to work towards sustainable and reinvigorated offers for our museums and we are fully committed to cultural services across Lancashire. We will also continue to invest in our libraries and support innovative schemes such as the Re-imagining the Harris project in Preston.

“We will seek to adopt elements from the proposal as we develop a new culture and sport strategy in the coming months and years.”

Lancashire Business View understands that the opposition Labour group at County Hall is calling for an emergency meeting of the full council following the announcement.

Lancashire has been developing a “virtual city” vision for the 2025 bid, with communities across the county urged to get involved.

Frank McKenna, chief executive of the Downtown in Business group, urged the politicians to reconsider.

He said: “I think it is a short-sighted decision and it will be a massive disappointment. I understand and appreciate the concerns of the council, but I believe the risk is minimal.

“Also, I don’t think the potentially huge benefits that this bid has to offer have been taken into account.”

He highlighted the impact successful city of culture bids have had in places such as Liverpool and Coventry and he added: “You only need to look at Liverpool’s transformation to see how being capital of culture and be used as a springboard for huge success moving forward.

“I’d urge a rethink. This is sending out the wrong message to the county and also to the government, at the worst possible time. It suggests we don’t have the confidence or the ambition.”

The UK City of Culture 2025 bid is being delivered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

It says the competition will use culture as a “catalyst for levelling up areas outside London and put culture at the heart of their plans to recover from the impact of the pandemic.”

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