Coventry Lady godiva statue. Photo: Keith D/CC
Coventry Lady godiva statue. Photo: Keith D/CC

Jane Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party

When Coventry was awarded the City of Culture in December 2017, there were huge hopes that this would be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the rich cultural history and life of the city and surrounding area, as well as giving a much-needed investment boost to local arts companies and artists.

While there were some amazing events in Coventry over the year, it is now overshadowed by huge controversy, and there is growing anger and frustration due to the recent announcement that the Coventry City of Culture Trust has gone into administration. It owes millions of pounds to arts companies and the city council, and is now unable to deliver the three-year legacy plans which would have seen continuing investment in our arts and cultural spaces that many were relying on for new productions and work in our city. Jobs have been lost and livelihoods threatened.

Anger

Local people are angry and seeking answers as to why and how it all went wrong – and where the money has gone. People are demanding that those responsible be held to account. According to the accounts, only £5,000 was spent on community funding, a paltry amount considering the millions of pounds the Trust had to spend, but hundreds of thousands were spent on travel and advisers.

Anger has turned on the city council and councillors who were part of the Trust. A £1 million loan of council money was made to the Trust only in September, when it was clear from the accounts that there were serious issues. With council services stretched and cut, it’s outrageous that this money was wasted! The scrutiny board which took place to discuss the council’s decisions and role was met with anger from local people when it was closed down abruptly.

It was always going to be difficult, given the impact of Covid and lockdowns in 2021, delaying the start. But that’s not the real reason. There were fundamental difficulties right from the start, such as brochures outlining events being sent out to homes late, meaning that many of the events advertised had already happened. Many events were poorly attended because people didn’t know about them. Many established artists and groups in the city were ignored and more deprived areas of the city were completely left out

Bradford, which was recently awarded the City of Culture status for 2025, must learn from the huge mistakes made in Coventry and ensure that local cultural organisations are at the heart of the planning. There must be proper democracy, transparency and scrutiny of the spending so it goes to the people that matter.

With years of austerity and massive cuts in the culture sectors, libraries and schools and adult education, many of our towns and cities are losing their cultural heart. We need a huge investment of funding across the country to enable that to be revived and thrive.  Schools and colleges need to have investment in art, music and drama so that all young people can participate and fully discover their talents.