Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 163 - 179)

TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001

MRS MAUREEN JONES, MR SELWYN EVANS AND MR KEITH HALL

Chairman

  163. Good morning, Maureen and colleagues. Welcome to the Committee. I cannot welcome you to the Pavilion since you run the place! One of the things I have done since I have been Chairman is to have as many evidence sessions outside London in Wales and in places such as this to promote interest in the assets that we have within Wales. For those of you who are not my constituents, welcome to my constituency, the most beautiful constituency in Wales. Welcome, as I said, Maureen. Could you begin by introducing yourself—obviously I know you—and say a little bit about the Eisteddfod for the benefit of the record.

  (Mrs Jones) Good morning. My name is Maureen Jones and I am the Marketing Director of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and I have been the Marketing Director since 1990. I have with me my colleagues Selwyn Evans, our Treasurer, and Keith Hall, our Competitors' Liaison Officer. I should say that of the three of us I am the one who is shop-soiled because I am salaried. The other two are volunteers who come in every morning and work very diligently throughout the year. The Llangollen Eisteddfod was born out of the ashes of World War II. It was the dream of two men, W S Gwyn Williams and Harold Tudor. Their vision was to provide a platform for people of all nations to meet and communicate through the international language of music, thus promoting peace, harmony and greater understanding. The first Eisteddfod was held in 1947 and 14 nations attended. The 54th Eisteddfod was last year and some 48 nations attended. This is a unique festival. It is run by 900 volunteers who come from all walks of life who give up a week of their annual holidays either to come and work on the site or to host our overseas competitors. Each year we host over 2,000 overseas competitors, anything from three to six nights with local families within a 15-mile radius of Llangollen.

Mr Ruane

  164. That costs them nothing?
  (Mrs Jones) Yes. They are the guests of the Festival. Once a group makes its way to Llangollen then we provide the transport to and from their billets and provide their meals. Basically we do what you would do for a guest in your own home. For many Eastern Europeans this has been a wonderful experience living in the homes of local people, being part of their family, experiencing democracy first-hand. Going back to the volunteers—sorry to grasshop—many of these volunteers have given their service for over 30 years because the International Eisteddfod is here in the same place year after year whereas the National moves around. It easy to be enthusiastic for four or five years but for people like Selwyn who have done it for many years it is a tremendous commitment which I know I am very proud of. If you have never been to the Eisteddfod then I do suggest you come just once to experience the joy and goodwill that permeates on this site throughout the week to either the competitors, the visitors or the people who work here.

Chairman

  165. Thank you very much, Maureen. As the MP for the area I have a very soft spot for the Eisteddfod, as you know. It is also the same age as me since I was born in 1947 and so was Eisteddfod.
  (Mrs Jones) You are a very loyal supporter and we must say John Marek is too. He can be seen constantly attending it.

  166. It is because of its nature that it is so well-supported and it is nice to hear that volunteers are supporting it, but you say in your letter that you receive no funding from the Arts Council for Wales or the Assembly and very little now from Welsh local government. I know it used to be different before. Can you explain why this is the case? Do you know why?
  (Mrs Jones) Could I ask my colleague Selwyn, the Treasurer, to explain it because he is the person who really deals with it.
  (Mr Evans) Good morning. We used to get funding from the Arts Council up until about 1995 of round about £30,000 to £35,000 per annum which went up in accordance with inflation I guess. Then for reasons best known to themselves they decided to cut it by a third in 1996, a further third in 1997 and as there are only three-thirds in a whole the last third went in 1998, and we have not had any funding since then. That is coupled with the effect of the reorganisation of the local authorities. Before the reorganisation we probably received something between £30,000 and £35,000 from the council and district authorities in Wales, some of it under the Welsh Church Act and some of it seemed to come from other funds. Each authority seemed to use a different fund to provide that cash. That was not our concern obviously; our concern was to get the funding. When the reorganisation came about, I think we anticipated that there would be a drop, but in fact it has now dropped to £10,000 from the unitary authorities last year. When you think that Denbighshire provided £6,000 and Wrexham £1,000, the other 19 or 20 provided £3,000 between them, and many of them nothing at all. I think we understand the reasons because of the funding problems that local authorities have. When choices have to be made between funding the Eisteddfod and providing the necessary things that local authorities have to provide, then one understands the reasoning, but it does not make life any easier for us. So there are two things. We have effectively lost something like £70,000 that we used to have on a fairly regular basis down now to just the £10,000 from the unitary authorities.

Mr Ruane

  167. What is the overall budget for the International Eisteddfod?
  (Mr Evans) At the moment it runs at round about £800,000.

Mrs Williams

  168. You were referring to the tithe fund earlier. Has anything worsened since the reorganisation of local government? Before you had two councils, Gwynedd and Clwyd, with tithe funds. Has that made an awful lot of difference to you financially?
  (Mr Evans) Yes, it has. What surprised one is that recently somebody in the office asked about the tithe fund and it is obvious that not every council uses it and the money that they have got in that fund is different between one council and another council. It varies tremendously so we have been advised now not to put pressure on the tithe fund that much because a large number of councils get their money from another fund and not from the tithe fund. That has amazed me really because the letter which comes out from the chair every year to the councils emphasises the fact that the tithe fund was there, that is what it was for, and yet very often the money did not come from the tithe fund.

Chairman

  169. I am very much a supporter of the Eisteddfod and I do not want you to take this as a criticism, but perhaps one of the disincentives for government bodies, be they local or national, from contributing to it is that they would see there is a lack of control on their behalf over the funding of the Eisteddfod. For example, as I understand it, one competition alone last year cost about £100,000. I may be wrong but that is what I have been told. I just wondered if that was the case, whether you think that government bodies might be a little bit loath to put money in when there are potential problems of funding?
  (Mr Evans) That information is not correct, Martyn. The competition you are referring to is probably the new competition which is the international singer competition for which there was a commitment. Because it was a new competition, like any other new competition, in the first year or two it might have cost us money, but in fact it did not cost us £100,000, it cost us something just over £40,000 which had been budgeted for. We usually get funding on a regular basis from the Arts Council but we have also applied for funding for specific projects. For instance, we did apply two years ago for that competition when we launched it and we were given the right vibes at the local level of the Arts Council that we would probably be funded, but when it came down to it they turned us down. One of the reasons that appeared to be in the background is the amount of reserves that we had, which was about half a million or just over. Probably 50 or 60 per cent of that was earmarked for development of part of the site and things like that, but they seem to be using the argument: "Why do you want funds when you have got half a million in the bank?" And we did not appear to be able to convince them that it was there for that use and for a rainy day. The rainy day unfortunately happened last year—literally. It was wet anyway but it did have an effect on us.

  170. In a sense the Arts Council let you down really with regard to the funding of the new competition?
  (Mr Evans) Yes.

Mr Caton

  171. Following on from that, what has been the impact of the loss of the whole of that £70,000 in public funding? Has it meant that you have had to go into your reserves or have you found the resources elsewhere?
  (Mr Evans) Up to two years ago (1999) we managed to keep on a reasonably even keel. The losses or the deficits each year were such that they were covered by some of funds from the local authorities and outside funds, but in the last two years that has not happened and therefore we have had to use our reserve funds. Our reserve funds have halved in two years.

Mr Ruane

  172. What do they stand at now?
  (Mr Evans) About £300,000.

  173. Are they allocated for specific improvement projects within the site? You are going to get this attitude from various funding agencies if you are sat on £100,000. If you can prove it is going to be used for this or that and you have got a long term improvement strategy—
  (Mr Evans) We do have plans for it. There has been here now in the last 18 months or so a feasibility study for the whole site. That was not instigated by us, but we were part of that and contributed towards the cost of the feasibility study. At this moment in time we are not quite sure what the developments are going to be from that, but obviously we would need to be chipping into that development if that came off because it is to our benefit as much as anybody else's, probably more to our benefit than anybody else's. Outside of that we are earmarking it for developing the Eisteddfod itself.

Mrs Williams

  174. Can you give us an idea of how much money comes into Llangollen and North Wales generally from overseas visitors?
  (Mr Evans) Could I ask Maureen to reply to that as she can give a more elaborate answer.
  (Mrs Jones) As far as I am aware, neither the Wales Tourist Board nor the County Council have ever undertaken an economic study on the impact of the Eisteddfod. However, using Wales Tourist Board visitor calculation figures we estimate that the Eisteddfod brings in £6.1 million.

  175. Is that for North Wales generally?
  (Mrs Jones) No, the local community.

  176. £6.1 million to the local community?
  (Mrs Jones) Yes. There has been over the years a huge spin-off for North Wales in the number of overseas visitors that we have coming here. I know from my own experience within the Wales Tourist Board that people would come to Llangollen and they would have their family with them and they would be saying, "When I was at Yale University this is where we competed in 1960-something." It brings people back. It also brings people into North Wales because people have got very preconceived ideas of what Wales is like. It brings them in and they realise it is not all coal tips and that there is beautiful scenery. You have got to remember we are only 20 miles from Chester and once we get people over the border and in here they go further into Wales, and I think the Eisteddfod has contributed a lot to that. It has also contributed to the cultural life of Wales if you consider that many of our male voice choirs and different choirs have extended their repertoire of music tremendously. If you get a male choir from Froncysyllte they sing in 11 languages and if they had not had these foreign choirs appearing that would never have happened. I think the Eisteddfod did that as well as contributing financially. I think that this is important.
  (Mr Evans) I would add that within that £6.1 million, of the £800,000 it costs to run the Eisteddfod, I think two-thirds of that is spent in the local community in the local area. We put up all the local competitors and people have got to buy food and do the laundry, etcetera, that sort of spend. There is a fair amount of what we spend in the local community.

  Chairman: We heard this morning that accommodation in Llangollen is full that week. Mrs Williams?

Mrs Williams

  177. A number of witnesses have suggested to us that it does not get the highest profile abroad that we would wish it to have and that the picture that people have of Wales is a little bit mixed, a little bit unclear, stereotyped if you like, and not does not really correspond to how we live here in Wales, and is not very up-to-date. Do you agree with that and what role do you think the Llangollen Eisteddfod has in raising the profile of Wales abroad?
  (Mrs Jones) Yes, unfortunately, I have to say I do agree with that, but I think that the Eisteddfod opens people's eyes. You have got to remember that Llangollen provides a window on the world and for the rest of the world it provides a unique image of Wales so I do think that we have expanded tremendously what people see and feel about the country.

  178. Do you think therefore that the Eisteddfod has a stronger role to play because of the answer you have just given us? Does it have a stronger role to promote Wales abroad in order to get the more accurate picture that Wales should have?
  (Mrs Jones) I think we are promoting Wales abroad. When you think that we have 2,000 overseas competitors staying with local families and they have a wonderful week here, all those people have got families there and they must go back and talk about it—there is nothing like first-hand experience—so I think the Eisteddfod is doing a wonderful job for Wales. The other thing is that many of the competing countries' ambassadors attend the Eisteddfod so we have a high level of ambassadors coming in. I am very pleased this year that the Welsh Assembly has decided to utilise the contact we have with ambassadors and will have a presence for the first time here in the Eisteddfod.
  (Mr Evans) If I can just add to that really. The problem is that we are trying our best to promote the Eisteddfod outside of the United Kingdom, but the welcome is possibly not spread widely enough. The Wales Tourist Board do not seem to be doing enough and they are quite frustrated to some extent, from what the Welsh Tourist Board have said, in that they cannot do what they want to do. I do not know whether it is because they are short of funds but I think they are quite frustrated in doing what they would like to do because of lack of resources. The biggest problem that we have, which is quite a surprise, is not so much that the wider world does not know about us, it is the people over Offa's Dyke who do not know about us. That is more the problem for us than the rest of the world really.

Mr Ruane

  179. You touched upon the attitude of the Wales Tourist Board towards the International Eisteddfod. What kind of support do bodies like the WDA and WTB give and what type of support could they give?
  (Mrs Jones) The WDA is very supportive. It actually sponsors an evening here and brings leading industrialists to the Eisteddfod. I think the WDA appreciates the uniqueness of the festival throughout the world, its feelgood factor and its friendliness and its record for quality and excellence. They feel it is an asset that can attract inward investment. You have got to remember that Wales is a great place to live and work in as well as to holiday in.


 
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