Sunday, October 04, 2009

Darlington Food Fair 2009

Darlington Food Festival - Paul Rankin

Darlington Food Festival 2009 - the Marquees

With Sandy and AJ, I went down to the Food Fair in the Market Place this lunchtime.

It was a great event, and a real showcase for the excellent local and regional producers we have in this part of the North East. The big draw was a series of demonstrations by "TV chef" Paul Rankin - his technical prowess seemed to be going down very well with the healthy crowd.

We brought back cheese, oil and biscuits. I got some sublime smoked veal sausages from Archers in Walworth (just don't tell Sandy...!)

This isn't a universal view of the event, however - my blogging colleague and LibDem councillor Mike Barker lays into "council bean counters" because adults had to pay £3 to get into the fair. For good measure, he supposes that the council will "lie" about the numbers of stalls and people attending. Apparently, Darlington residents "won't pay money for events like this."

Strong stuff. As regular readers will have gathered, I don't like using the "l" word. Even about the FibDems.

Anyway, rather than rely on what Mike or I say about the event, I shot some film so you can all make up your own minds. My conversations with stall holders were for the most part different, and more positive, than Mike. But then, I'm a Labour politician, so I must be lying.

What I do find hard to stomach is being lectured by a senior opposition councillor about council "bean counters". Putting on the event isn't cheap. The marquee has to be hired, the staff engaged, the publicity printed and the celebrity engaged (without all of this, it would simply be another monthly Farmers' Market, and wouldn't have attracted stall holders from across the region).

I don't know how the finances of the Food Fair worked out exactly, but in these difficult times, DBC staff were simply trying to put on a great event without imposing too much strain on council finances. Not good enough for the LibDems, who presumably would have wanted a budget-busting free event costing tens of thousands. And they then would have been the first to line up and slag us off for "wasteful" expenditure come year end.

As a late, great Fleet Street journalist would doubtlessly have said, "Pass the sick-bag, Alice".


Mike Barker said...

Nick, there is a letter from a resident in today's Echo complaining about the entry fee and comparing the festival unfavourably in this regard with the Bishop Auckland festival.

It is the case that many people turned away when they found out they would have to pay to look at some stalls where traders were seeking to extract yet more money from them.

It is the case that it was quieter this year, at least when I was there, and it is the case that stall-holders were complaining; not just to me: ask the Friends of the Earth team who were there all day.

Furthermore, it is the case that the Town Crier and the DBC publicity machine routinely exaggerate the numbers of stalls and visitors at these types of events by a factor of several hundred per cent. I demonstrated on my blog last year that, if the Council's claimed figures were correct, it would have literally been impossible to get everyone into the tent even over the whole course of the festival. Last year DBC claimed there were "around 100" stalls, when in fact there were 25. At the Continental Market DBC said there were "over 300" when there were less than 60.

This is the sort of blown up, exaggerated propaganda ("lies") that this Labour Council has become known for and which has made the Town Crier a ridiculed and derided organ.

I think having a food festival is a great idea, but £3! Let's work it out. How many visitors were there this year? I don't know, though no doubt DBC will claim there were more than last year, which would be over 25,000. Say 20,000 of these were adults paying £3 each, that produces £60,000. Then there are the stall holders' fees bringing in another £10,000 say. £70,000: that's a lot of money just to hire a marquee, a few security staff and a tv chef.

Sounds to me like someone made a bit of extra profit out of this!

Mike Barker said...

Me again!

The Council's advance estimate for the number of people who would be attending this year's food festival was 40,000.
The festival was held over three days and was open from 10 til 4 each day. That's a total of 18 hours. So that means 2,222 people were expected to go through the single entry point every hour: 37 people every minute!!! And this year they had to pay too!!!


How can anyone take anything produced by this Council seriously when they ask us to believe this sort of nonsense? At least last year they only told us there were 35 people entering every minute!
(25,000 over two days).

james said...

Mike, it's not for it's content that the Town Crier comes under attack, as you'll be aware if you've followed the debate on council magazines. I hope that the Lib Dems wont be joining with those who would do away with the Crier - it is, after all, one way in which information on public services and events can be given to every residence in the town. I know many people who would not have convenient access to this information otherwise.

Re: the food fayre. One problem was that for those only visiting on the Sunday, 3 quid might have seemed a bit steep. I don't know what the mood was on that day, I wasn't there. I bought a ticket on Friday and it got passed around with other family members using it on the other days!

For most of Friday and Saturday I manned FOE's stall in the indoor market. My experience was that there were a lot of people who had come from outside Darlington, while I can't be sure if this was specifically because of the event, it won't have harmed their perceptions of Darlington. Some market traders called outside "you don't have to pay three quid to get in here", which perhaps drew more people into the indoor market!

Ian W said...

I too have had many complaints about the £3 entry fee from residents of Hurworth (don't know what they wanted me to do) I just forwarded the relevant details of people to complain to.

But I had 3 phone calls over the weekend and 2 people have verbally mentioned that entry should be free.

I would suggest DBC rethink the way they are trying to repay the PHart overspend, driving shoppers away is not the answer.

Mike Barker said...

Hi James,

Loath as I am to use Nick's blog as a place to debate Lib Dem policies, the position we take is that the Council needs an information bulletin/newspaper so that important Council information can be given to all residents, not just those who buy the Echo.

However, it should be just that: a source of essential information, not a self-aggrandizing, glossy, expensive magazine which takes advertising revenue away from the local press and which is widely seen as little more than a boastful mouthpiece for one particular discredited political party.

By the way, the unofficial attendance figure I have heard is that around 4,000 people attended the event: some 10% of DBC's original estimate.

james said...

Mike, how exactly does the Crier take ad revenue from the local press? The reason why people would advertise in the Crier is that it hits every doormat in Darlington. The only "local" press I've heard complaining is the Echo's editor - and Newsquest isn't exactly owned by the people of Darlington!

I know that you might have other ideas Mike, but the leader of your party has pledged support for the "savage spending cuts" that would no doubt gut council spending. You know very well that there's no overt political bias in the Crier - I imagine it would read just the same if we had a Liberal or Tory council...

Mike Barker said...

Hi James,

A number of points here:

The reason the Echo's editor is only "local" press you've heard complaining is because that is the only local press we have! Irrespective of who owns it, it is our local paper and serves the area well with its local coverage.

In fact, Peter Barron's campaign against local Council freesheets has been part of a far wider campaign and you would have read the same concerns in many parts of the country over the past few weeks.

I think Peter's argument is two-fold: hard-pressed company advertising budgets which could go to the Echo can be placed in the Crier at cheaper rates (since the Crier is non-profit making) thus undercutting the local press. Secondly, the Council itself uses the Crier to place advertisements which might otherwise go to the Echo.

Your third point suggests only the Lib Dems are warning of the need for real cuts in public expenditure. You obviously haven't been tuned in the Conservatives' Conference this week!

I think your use of the word "support" is unfortunate. I would suggest cuts are an inevitability given the burden of debt the current Government has amassed: we don't "support" cuts: like death and taxes, at the moment you just can't escape them!

If you think there is no political bias in the Crier, I suggest you meet up with Nick and form a "There is no political bias in the Town Crier" pressure group. Trouble is, you might be the only two members, and even Nick may baulk at joining.

When (not if) we have a Conservative or Lib Dem Council, I think it is pretty clear that PR activity in general would be much less prominent and boastful than it is under Labour.

james said...


On the Echo you say "Irrespective of who owns it, it is our local paper and serves the area well with its local coverage." I agree - but its woes aren't down to people advertising in the Crier. The newspaper industry is in decline because of the shift to new media - something which advertisers are following.

Have the Liberals nothing to say about media ownership these days? You can't be happy that our "local" paper is owned by a transnational corporation...

On the economy - the problem is not the public debt but the fall in private investment - you can't revive the latter by cutting the former. At present, the state is the spender of last resort. (Check this out:

How are we going to get out of recession if we increase unemployment by sacking public sector workers? And if there are pay freezes workers will have less money to spend in businesses like yours.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.

Sorry Mike and Nick I am not trying to muscle in.

James. Speaking personally I don't have any problem about who owns the Echo or for that matter its sister paper the D & S Times. Both publications are politically neutral and free. Hear all Sides in the Echo and Letters to the Editor in the D & S Times allows varying opinions to be given an airing. The Town Crier on the other hand does not.

I have great respect and affection for the Northern Echo and the D & S Times. They are part of the fabric of Darlington, Durham, the North East and North Yorkshire.

What I am more concerned about is the involvement of a transnational corporation which owns schools in Darlington outside of school hours. All the money from hiring the facilities at the schools doesn't stay in Darlington, but goes to the transnational corporation's shareholders miles away.

Prior to its involvement the out of hours hiring charges went to the schools concerned for the benefit of the children.

My son's football team has to pay way over the odds to use the transnational corporation's pitches for home games. So the club he belongs to cannot improve their facilities which they would dearly like to do as a result.

james said...

Alan - the Town Crier is not a newspaper - it is a monthly magazine. It doesn't have a letter section - no doubt if it had something similar to Hear All Sides then we'd have Barron moaning that it was a drain on letters being sent to the Echo!

The quality of journalism in the Echo is constrained by the need to maximise profits - perhaps if there was a different ownership structure for local newspapers (that is to say, genuinely owned by local people - not by the Gannett group, Murdoch, etc.) then there would not be the pressures on journalists that exist.

I kind of feel sorry for the Echo's editor - perhaps he's been told to make that silly attack on council magazines, in the same way that Rupert Murdoch told the Sun's editor to start cheerleading for the Tories.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes...

The Town Crier doesn't give opposition councillors a voice nor does it publicise the hard work of ordinary councillors of every political party, nor does it give the people an explanation when things go horribly wrong such as the Pedestrian Heart and Eastern Transport Corridor fiascos for example.

I cannot see anyone in Darlington wanting to or being rich enough to own the local newspapers. The last local owner was, I think, Sir Charles Starmer in the 1920s and 1930s who lived in Darlington, owned the then parent company - the Westminster Press and was a prominent Councillor and former Mayor. Starmer Crescent is named after him.

Anonymous said...

In a feature on this issue the other day, the Echo said: "For local news, there remains no substitute for a good, independent local newspaper."

Now if that's the case, why aren't people buying it? If there really is no alternative means by which people receive news, the Echo's sales would be soaring and its American owners would be delighted.

But they're not. And why not? Because of a poor quality monthly magazine produced by one local authority (and this is all about the Town Crier sent out by Darlington council, y'know, the one which tried to close the Echo's beloved Hurworth School, no matter how much the paper bleats that it's a wider problem)?

Nothing to do with the telly? Or the radio? Or the Internet and the vast explosion of social media that has come with it? Nope, it's all down to the Town Crier. Incredible.

ex-labour said...

The top and bottom of it is the "Crier" is wanted about as much as swine fever, it is a waste of tax payers money and a politically bias Labour council magazine.

Let's leave the Echo out of this, we all know they and many other newspapers do not like Council magazines, full stop!

As a resident of Darlington every time the Liar lands on my mat I firstly think page 1 Johno preaching how good things are for us (with no tie) and how many times is DBC going to praise itself in the next 15 mins reading.

Thank you DBC for the green recycling boxes as thats where mine directly goes especially with the price of Andrex at an all time low or I truely would be recycling it in the most appropriate method anyone should!

james said...

Alan - we shouldn't assume a wealthy individual must be the proprietor of a newspaper.

The Newcastle United supporters trust is aiming to buy their football club - who's to say something similar couldn't happen for local newspapers? This would be more democratic than either corporate or individual ownership.

ex-labour - you never use the crier to get telephone numbers, contact addresses, meeting or event details? Let's be clear - the big news corporations are out to scrap even those council magazines in towns which have tory or liberal councils...

Anonymous said...

It's "wanted as much as swine fever", yet by your own admission you spend 15 minutes reading it?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

Sorry James I cannot agree. It takes a lot of money to buy and operate a newspaper. I don't know how much, but it would be a large amount. How many daily, evening and weekly newspapers are owned by their communities? I suspect there will be very few, if any.

Good luck to the supporters of Newcastle United in buying their club. I think the current owner wants in the region of £100M which Imay well be beyond the means of the majority of the supporters of the club.

james said...

That's very true Alan. But it's worth mentioning how much more stable mutual and cooperative forms of ownership can be - it wasn't the building societies that needed bail-outs, it was the private banks (including former building societies like Northern Rock!).

Though total ownership might be a very hard struggle - the Liverpool supporters trust have a stake in the club which allows fans to have some influence over what happens to their club. I believe that when communities, consumers and employees, have a stake in something it can strengthen our democracy and our economy.

ex-labour said...

Anon above Alan said

Have you ever used it for a telephone number? NO

I don't really spend 15 mins reading it, I flick through quickly just to see what we the townsfolk of Darlington should be eternally grateful for this month from our benevolent betters!

I do not care which party is in charge and thus produces it, it will always be bias towards that party and costs to much in these times of hardship.

No party should abuse it's being in power to produce this type of leaflet partly at the tax payers expense, especially when there is a recession going on around us.

james said...


You may think the Crier is of no use - but other people do use it for information purposes, and councils are legally obliged to provide information of public services.

Are you of the view then that the route to economic recovery is the downward spiral of disinvestment? You do realise that deindustrialisation means public spending is vital for private enterprise in our region and that "savage spending cuts" would mean millions more unemployed?

Anonymous said...

John Bull says.....

You do write a load of bollocks James.

The Town Crier tells lies and gives the impression that everying is OK when it isn't. It is a sheer unadulterated propaganda rag which Soviet Russia and its East European satelite states would have been proud of.

Public spending will be cut that is a fact it will happen. There is a hell of a lot of fat in the public sector which will be cut out. The taxpayers will be protected from rises which they cannot afford and that is so right.

Isn't it better to have tax cuts where people are allowed to spend their money the way they want to or save it for investment rather than Government taking it off them and wasting it? We have seen how our Stalinist Council wastes money.

Public spending will not get us out of the mess we are in private industry will.

james said...

John, private investment is falling. If public spending also falls at this stage then this will impact negatively on the private sector - don't forget that the public sector purchases goods and services from private companies, and public sector workers spend their money on goods and services produced by private companies.

Ordinary people cannot afford to buy services like healthcare, education, etc. as individuals. That's why we pay for them through taxation - and also because any decent society will look after its members.

What we need is job creation programmes - so the unemployed can work, pay taxes, and spend their wages. This would put demand into the economy and stimulate private investment...