‘Badly informed critics won’t put us off our culture bid’, says council leader


The leader of Newport city council has defended the city’s bid to become the UK’s next city of culture, and said some people criticising the bid on social media are ill informed.

Newport and Gwent was officially unveiled as one of 20 places in the UK which has thrown its hat into the ring for the title in 2025, it was reported on Friday, and council leader Jane Mudd said the authority has everything crossed in making it to the final six, which will be revealed next month.

Speaking to WalesOnline, Ms Mudd revealed that council officials began talking about a bid during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Newport among five Welsh places in the running to be named UK City of Culture 2025

“We started to look at it when we were looking at our Covid recovery strategy,” she said. “We were looking at research into culture-led regeneration as part our membership with the Key Cities Group, and one of the pieces of work we looked at was on culture and regeneration.

“During the discussions we started to look at it quite seriously as a possibility for Newport.”

When Newport and Gwent’s bid came to light last month, some took to social media to criticise it, suggesting authorities should target their efforts at post-pandemic recovery instead. But Ms Mudd said there is no better time to bid for exactly that reason.

“If you look at the criteria for the bid it asks you to look at the evidence for levelling up,” she explained. “I recognise there is some scepticism around this, but actually when you look at how we use the cultural sector and visitor economy to offer really good quality job and training opportunities, that forms part of it as well.

“It really isn’t what quite badly informed and negative people have said. It’s a great time for Newport to go for this.”

Feature on Friars Walk, Newport city centre

She also knocked back suggestions that the financial implications of a bid would be problematic for the city.

“The cost really depends on what we put on,” she said. “I can’t put a figure on it but if we get through to the next stage we will get £40,000 from the UK government to help us put together a final bid. That bid will then enable us to fully cost our proposals.

“If you look at [previous winners] Hull, the contribution from their city council was minimal when compared to the returns.

“We will have the opportunity to do sponsorships and organise a programme of events where we can sell tickets.

“Much depends on aspirations and the level of support and in the ticket sales we get.”

Major improvements to Coventry’s city centre – which is the current holder – has required more than £31 million since 2019, mostly paid for by the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Previous winner Hull saw an uplift in visitor numbers by slightly less than 10 per cent in 2017 from 2016, contributing to an estimated £300 million injection into the city’s economy from tourism in 2017, creating nearly 800 jobs.

It was up by 22% in 2016 compared to 2015, and there was a further marginal increase in 2018.

But Ms Mudd believes that aside from the financial costs and benefits, it’s the impact a bid can have on people’s wellbeing that also makes it worth it.

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“It has the power to build people’s confidence, and to say to them that it is OKto be part of an event, to listen to a type of music, to make people aware that something is there for them that they might not have known about before,” Ms Mudd said.

“I’ve been humbled by some of the comments we’ve received in relation to this. People involved in cultural industries saying they’re still in Newport and creating their art in Newport. It’s heartwarming and humbling. It’s something we need to capture and move forward with regardless of the result of the bid.

“We have to take into account that it’s a competitive process and there can only be one winner, but really why shouldn’t it be us? Why shouldn’t we stand proud and say we have a unique offer?

“There is no reason we can’t continue to better that offer whether we’re successful in our bid or not, and that’s the aim. It’s about how we embed these ideas into our cultural strategy going forward.

“We’ve got loads going on and I want to put Gwent on a platform where the world can see how amazing our communities are.

“Newport is actually, apart from being its own worst critic, a really welcoming community. It’s gritty, it’s truthful, but it has a wealth of cultural riches, and it’s a real opportunity for us all to come together behind the bid.”

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