Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Last Battle?












At the start of April, I put this FOI request in:

“I would like to see a copy of the completed report compiled for the Economic Development Department by Sara Felton on the Jersey Battle of Flowers Ltd, and the running of the Jersey Battle of Flowers. A previous FOI request reply stated “ it will be published in the reports section on gov.je in February 2015.” It is now April 2015, which is surely enough time for a final report to be published, but I cannot find it.”

Something happened as a result, because the report by Sarah Felton was published on gov.je in the ‘Reports’ section on 13th April 2015, and is now in the public domain. It is a rather short report for £5,400.00 which is what it cost to produce, but as States reports go, that’s probably relatively cheap.

http://www.gov.je/Government/Pages/StatesReports.aspx?ReportID=1279

It is a rather damming report of the Battle of Flowers in its current form, and there is an appendix following in which 11 Constables express their opinions, some rather forcibly, even if they are not identified by name. In fact, it is pretty obvious who some of them are as the content of their comment is a dead giveaway.

The report notes what might be considered a breakdown of communications between the Battle of Flowers Board and the Exhibitors:

“Unfortunately, there seems to have been a quite serious breakdown in the communication between the exhibitors and the current board which has led to a fractious relationship where neither party are satisfied they are being well represented.”

"There is no doubting the dedication and commitment shown by the vast number of volunteers who work tirelessly to produce the floats, known as ‘exhibits’, and those who hold positions on the board; this also extends to those currently holding paid positions. Whilst it is obvious that without all of them the event would be unable to take place, it is quite apparent that there is notable division between the exhibitors and the board over the current way the event itself is run. It is apparent that a breakdown in communication has led to this division increasing over time. Feelings of dissatisfaction from the current exhibitors has led to an event that is considered, by them, to be no longer fit for purpose."

And it is clear that the main message of the report is that the Battle should be a “community event” rather than a “tourism event”:

"The Jersey Battle of Flowers is, at its very roots, a community event. It is an event that has, over periods of time, gained interest internationally, making it an appealing time of year for tourists to visit the island. It would appear that this is unfortunately no longer the case and the number of visitors still coming to the island specifically to attend the event is declining, mainly due to this being an ageing sector of the population."

"Due to the current allocation of their grant funding from the Economic Development Department (Jersey Tourism), it is apparent that the event is trying to hold on to its ‘tourism’ categorisation, when in reality a return to the community-based origins of the event should be given serious consideration. This is fundamentally a community event that provides an enhancement to a visitor’s experience on island, rather than a specific motivation to visit. "

"Serious consideration needs to be given to the allocation of funding, including, but not limited to, the conditions which are imposed upon its allocation. In order for the Battle of Flowers Parade to become self-sustaining (and no longer reliant upon grant-funding), it needs to focus on the current high infrastructure costs. Without the funding it receives from government, there is simply no way the event will be able to survive long-term in its current format, unless dramatic changes to the physical construction of the event itself are considered. "

"With regard to holiday bookings, it is believed that the Battle of Flowers is no longer a significant decision maker for visitors to the island. With this in mind, it would appear to make greater sense if the event was no longer financially supported by the Economic Development Department (Jersey Tourism), but is instead moved into the remit of a cultural event for the local community; with the enhancement to the visitor experience being an additional benefit."

What can we conclude from this? It is clear that “Visit Jersey” would like to withdraw funding for the Battle of Jersey, or reduce the grant from Economic Development so that there would be more for them to spend on their own plans – which we will apparently see in July. This is, in many ways, a pre-emptive strike, although it is not produced by them, it definitely serves their intentions.

Nevertheless, it would be a brave Minister to follow these recommendations and remote the grant completely. People will remember the decision, and with the rural vote having a large impact on Senatorial candidates, I would suggest that any Minister who did that should be looking to retire at the next election. It would be election suicide, which may explain the delays in the report, and the wonderfully guarded comments about it:

"The Minister for Economic Development welcomes this report regarding a landmark event in the Jersey calendar. The report makes a number of interesting points which require further analysis by the department."

It is a shame that for £5,400 – the cost of the report – we don’t get some more details about the figures involved. We are told that “it is believed that the Battle of Flowers is no longer a significant decision maker for visitors to the island”. That’s hardly a matter of fact, it is a supposition. And it is followed by a statement that is so risible it beggars belief: “"The typical demographic of those attending is believed to be over the age of 60 and under the age of 11"

I have no doubt that the Battle is no longer the same crowd puller that it was in the tourism heyday of the past, but what we have in this report are a series of statements not backed up by evidence, and prefixed by such qualifications as to make them unverifiable, and probably incorrect. The statement about “the typical demographic” is the kind of statement one expects to find in the satirical pages of “Private Eye”; no one could take it seriously, and it casts doubt upon the objectivity of the report.

The report does make a number of good points regarding costs. For example: "Currently there are no family ticket options, which seems like an oversight, particularly when considering the target audience" The savings on different ways of getting seating and stands would certainly cut costs, and clearly the current Battle board have not looked into this. These are the positive parts of the report.

But with John Henwood of the Shadow Tourism board, we return to suggestions that part company with the real world. John Henwood is, I am certain, a very intelligent man. But it would be extremely unwise of him to take plants as a specialist subject on Mastermind. Why do people say things like this without even checking with someone who knows?

"John Henwood, Chairman of the Tourism Shadow Board suggested working with Jersey farmers to fill the fallow time following the potato harvest and fill the fields with asters, marigolds or, taking inspiration from the Netherlands, dahlias. These particular flowers are perennials and should prove hardy enough to be grown outside. "

If John Henwood’s marigolds are the best suggestion he can offer then “Visit Jersey” will not fare any better than Jersey Tourism.

How on earth can you say these plants are perennials (meaning survive from season to season)’ in the context that once year the fields are to be dug up for potatoes…what is the point?

In fact, asters and marigolds are not perennials and dahlias are tubers - expensive tubers at that. The Netherlands fields are run as a commercial sale stock production - not as pretty planting for tourists to admire.

In conclusion, this is a document drawn up to promote one point of view: that the Battle should lose its States funding. All the talk about “community events” are wishful thinking. If the Battle loses its grant, it goes as an event, it will not resurface as a “community event”. In this respect, it is the report which is harking back to the origins of the Battle when it was a small parade which moved to Springfield; it is as guilty of looking to an idyllic past as the Battle organisers are - the only difference being that it looks back to the origins of Battle, they look to the 1970s.

But even such events as the West Show – surely a "community event" if ever there was one – are facing problems in continuing.

Significantly, this report is being released ahead of the Medium Term Plan. The fine print of the Medium Term Plan for Economic Development would, I think, contain some mention of the Battle. But the cards are very stacked against it.

Postscript:

In the Appendix, the Constable’s Committee comments are cited without naming Constables, but it is rather obvious whom some of those are:

“The parish can no longer afford to exhibit, particularly as they don’t have access to large enough premises within which they can build a seniors’ float…The Constable suggested joining forces with St Ouen and exhibiting together. (St Mary)

“The Constable, at a further meeting, aired his disappointment about the parade ‘taking people away from the town centre’, but expressed an interest in finding ways this can be changed.” (St Helier)

“The current Constable was responsible for initiating the parish’s return to the parade after a number of years of not being involved.”

“The Parish was unable to find a ‘Miss Parish’ representative this year. They complained about a lack of communication from BoF head office, which resulted in them not having enough time to advertise the position and there was also a lack of interest in the parish. They, like St Mary, would like to enter a junior float, but not a large one. They felt the rules and regulations are far too complicated.”

“Their parish committee of exhibitors is very vocal about not wanting the parade to start on the arena….They suggested we look at the Grainville parade for direction of how the event could happen. There is a marked difference between the day and moonlight parade.” (St Brelade)

4 comments:

James said...

The statement about “the typical demographic” is the kind of statement one expects to find in the satirical pages of “Private Eye”

Depending on how tickets are priced (if you have one rate for OAPs, one for adults and one for under 12s, for example), it's perfectly verifiable.

Incidentally, the inability of BoF organisers to give me any advance idea of price is one reason I don't bother with it.

TonyTheProf said...

It would be fine if backed up with solid statistics but the report only has details of ticket prices, no detailed of breakdown of sales.

miranda eiting said...

the statement about dahlia's"The netherlands fields are run as a sales stock production" is not quite right. The largest dahliafields are run by the parishes of Dutch flower parades. All volunteers. The dahlia's are sold to other parishes of other flower parades. This way the Dutch flower parades can exchange their flower stock, and keep their costs for flowers low. This cheap alternative is chosen by more and more parades all over Europe, and can save the Battle a large investment every year.

miranda eiting said...

The quote '"The Netherlands fields are run as a commercial stock production" is not quite right. The largest Dutch Dahlia fields are run by the Parishes and parade groups of the Dutch flower parades. In order to keep costs of the parade floats low, they grow their own flowers. As a new harvest is ready every week, the dahlia's are traded with other parades, that run on different dates. The largest fields are run by the parishes of Zundert ( all volunteers) they can deliver upto 4 million flowers per week. And their flowers are even delivered to a parade in Spain, that has recently shifted to the use of Dahlia's

More info can be found on:

http://www.bloemencommissie.nl/en/