No one really thinks about the cash it takes to host the Nottinghill carnival, after all as a fellow masquerader, I just think about the mas and concentrate on having a great time. However, the funding for the carnival is only one of the aspect in a pool of problems that mires our yearly tradition. Over the last decade, the carnival has really taken a beating in the media, by the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) residents. Whilst, there are understandable frustrations amongst the West Indian community, we are now taking a stance and saying, enough is enough. I, myself, have been going to the carnival every year since I was 5 years old and I am still alive to tell the tale. Admittedly, the 80’s were torrid with a huge emphasis on the riots at the time, since then the carnival cannot shake the tag of being identified, portrayed, associated, even stereotyped as a place of violence with high crime statistics, but no positive focus on the art. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea trumps on about the aftermath of carnival and the effects on the community, how inconsiderate it is to the householders etc. blah, blah, blah. Nevertheless, I sit in a state of contrition, mourning the fact that Carnival is not a National Treasure. It is almost beggars belief, that the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust (LNHCET), is not sufficiently staffed or funded. It is widely known that the London Nottinghill Carnival annually brings in over £93 Million to the economy. So just why is carnival being constantly negatively promoted?
Before the incumbent trust, it was formerly a limited company, the London Notting Hill Carnival Ltd (LNHC) but it was dissolved in 2004, with monetary funds and some power taken away. Despite this, they reformed as The Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust (LNHCET), chaired by Augustine (Pepe) Francis, MBE. Although chaired by esteemed characters, the belief is held that they have done little since the days of Claire Holder. Pepe is rarely seen in the media, neither promoting carnival nor seen in any real activities to help fund it. The only recent claim to fame was providing the infamous ‘car crash’ radio interview with Nick Ferrari in 2015. Either way, carnival needs help, with the media and so many bodies denouncing carnival and the focus on the crime statistics, it is no wonder carnival gets unfair press. Let’s not get it twisted, the London Notting Hill carnival is the biggest in Europe, ingratiated in West Indian roots, contributing majorly to the economy. Yet it is criticised, called to moved, cancelled, hung, drawn and quartered annually, within and in its build up by all bodies. It is especially not revered by the media, the gentrified community, the Met Police and certainly not held in any heritage esteem by the Mayor of London.
Let’s now look at crime, Steve O’Connell, stated in a commissioned report, ‘any large scale event will experience disorder, but worryingly violent incidents, including a large number of knife attacks, appear to be on the rise’. OK, great so where is the breakdown of these said statistics. Numerous calls for the carnival statistics go unfounded. I have been searching for the official crime statistics for the Notting Hill carnival, but nothing is out there, nothing is broken down into categories. A huge festival like the Notting Hill carnival that requires 13,000 officers that “seemingly” make warranted arrests, but no breakdown on arrests. So just how do the police tackle the crime when they have no ideas for the high numbers of arrest categories. Out of the so-called 400 arrests how many were ‘soft’ crimes that pumped up the statistics? And do these numbers contain arrest records for carnival? What are the details? Are they predominately white or black? All of these details are recorded on arrest records, at police stations and logged into databases, so not sure why it is not available. I just don’t get the calls for it to be moved or stopped when we are not factually getting the full extent of the issues. We need a full breakdown of figures to seriously tackle the problem.
Are we slowly killing carnival?
I am also compelled to understand why the Notting Hill Carnival is almost being allowed to die and feel that it is a component of a number of issues, some of which are detailed below.
How ironic was it that I felt the media sucks the life out of carnival? My notable statements reveal my disgust at the media and it’s subsequent reporting of the carnival. There is never a headline or editorial worthy enough to cherish. Battered, nearly broken with the yearly negative media spins, but still living on. Despite this, something stirred this year, fed up of the negative twist prominent voices were tweeting, with the BBC ‘apparently’ responding with an article this year entitled, “is the fun being sucked out of Notting Hill Carnival”? The author expressed their views on the inordinate focus on crime this year for the carnival, with the number of arrests made in the run-up, weapons seized and the infamous tweet from the Metropolitan Police on the heroin find.
This tweet deservedly received a social media backlash with many celebrities expressing their surprise at heroin being associated with carnival. A deeply disturbing, negative marketing ploy by the Met Police. The article reported that last year’s event saw 454 arrests, with 169 of those being for drugs, but two people suffered from stabbing injuries. This year’s carnival saw officers make over 300 arrests, however, the data does not reveal the detailed statistics. Consistent arguments are also trending over the fact that this carnival is overtly scrutinised for crime. The BBC reported that. ‘Statistics for 2013-16 show the proportion of arrests at the Notting Hill Carnival was only half that at Glastonbury – one of the UK’s other biggest outdoor events’. I always find it an issue when Metropolitan Police Federation categorically state year after year, that it’s officers dread the carnival. Eh? Really? YouTube – police dancing, Facebook, and other social media are filled with pictures of police enjoying themselves or dancing with masqueraders. It can’t be the same person and truly believe that most enjoy it, or even have grown to like it. Arguably, listening to a type of music you have no idea about and being around so many people, if you’re drafted from the Outer Hebrides, must be daunting even for any police officer. Nevertheless, most do enjoy themselves. Even anyone interviewed will always state they had a good time and you will struggle to find any that have not enjoyed themselves. It is normally a peaceful carnival and the number of arrests in comparison to the number of people attending is small by contrast.
Are the LNHCET fit to run the carnival?
There are many that feel that the current group is ineffective to deal with carnival as it stands today. I would ask that you read the report in which it stated, ‘unfortunately the LNHCET, as the organising body for Carnival, suffers from a lack of support and capacity to deliver. It is run by volunteers, with little funding or staffing resource. It has come a long way and we congratulate its members who work so hard to make Carnival happen every year. It admits, however, that it still struggles and it is now time to provide it with a greater level of support’. This was in January 2017. The group do not commit full-time to activities and is as and when available? Really? This group operates funds to organise a carnival that over 1 million people attend and there are no full-time personnel allocated or paid for? The Met Police and RBKC agreed to this? We agree to this?
The controversial accounts
I also had the chance to view and download the various accounts over their trading periods. Very interesting reports with lots of members, but non-contributing and a lack of sufficient accounts? You can check their accounts yourself via Companies House. I found all the financial statements and details for both the carnival trust and the prior company. Interestingly, the total administrative spend on the LNHC Report and Financial Statements for 2004, was over a quarter of a million pounds, £248,138, in fact, was reported. The current liabilities listed as £71,829. There were documents that noted a process was in place in 2011 for a compulsory strike-off due to a lack of accounts, but this was later resolved. An accounting period that year also had to be extended. Accounts submitted in 2010, showed the LNHC were awarded over £500,000, however, the cost of sales was listed at £195,000, admin expenses were £174,000 and an accumulated loss from the year before of £157,000! As you can imagine when you incorporate all the other little costs and it resulted in a loss. The LNHCET Accounts for year ending 2015 only consisted of only 5 pages and I didn’t quite understand it or any of the reports, to be honest. As there was no detailed breakdown of spend, no accounting for liabilities and trying work out what these accounts actually meant. I am no forensic accountant but something does not add up with high levels of administrative charges. Tellingly, this trust actually benefited from audit exemptions due to a number of qualifying reasons. The title in companies house to view some of the accounts were listed under the banner of “Total exemption small company accounts”.
What carnival funding?
So, roll to 2016 and Boiler Room gets Arts Council funding. It is worth noting that the Arts Council is the place to go to for funding, with over 1.6 billion of funds available. A few other carnival mas bands receive funding from this source also and am sure lots of cash wasted, with seemingly no one from the Arts Council auditing spend. The last two years have been controversial, with this said Boiler Room receiving over £297,000 of funding from the Arts Council this year, to “promote carnival and remove negativity”. Hmmmm…Two things. The Boiler Room’s money comes from a grant which was supposed to be spent on a campaign against negative media perceptions of the carnival as well as sustainability, the latter being working with sound systems to help them get funding of their own from sponsors and public bodies. Secondly, the question begs as to why the LNHCET are only given a miserly £100,00 grant? Why was the Boiler Room awarded so much and governing the sound systems? Why are the LNHCET allowed to operate with no real roles set up to ensure the safety and growth of carnival? How is this happening? A senior carnival organiser spoke up and stated that they felt that, “carnival should be completely funded by the Arts Council. The event is unique, it’s a cultural event where everyone is welcome. It’s valuable for us and our community and our country but the borough offers the barest minimum in operational funding and the trust gets no funding from the Arts Council.” Indeed, just why has the carnival trust not applied for funding from the coveted Arts Council over all these years? Surely a part of their budget could have included a fund-raising manager, instead of all this part-time voluntary staff. I mean the trust is responsible for putting on the London Notting Hill Carnival and the subsequent stewarding, but no one thought that this team may need help?
In offence to the contribution given by the Arts Council to the Boiler Room, the Babylon Rooms was published. Amongst other criticisms, the article stated that Boiler Room only gave the sound systems just £32,000 out of the grant pot. What happened, in reality, was the live streaming of sound systems and a majority of dance DJ’s, you can search and view on YouTube, there is nothing on there about mas bands or the history of carnival. Babylon Room suggests that it is a move to increase the presence of dance music in carnival. Quietly allowed to try and kill of the sound systems under the guise of help and assistance. However, Boiler Room responded to Babylon Room’s article and the controversy surrounding the funding, subsequently releasing a statement defending the money given and its contribution to carnival. Interesting to note though is some of their core aims and future plans, which seems to focus on the promotion and governance of sound systems and not carnival.
Boiler Room (highlighted themes only) statement
- To work actively to change the media perception of Carnival, encouraging fair representation of Carnival’s stories & characters, accurate & unbiased reporting of statistics, and proportionate focus on the strength of sound system culture;
- To shine a light on the under-celebrated sound system culture that is key to Carnival’s popularity today;
- last year, we were proud to partner with a range of sound systems and work with Guinness in broadcasting the most comprehensive coverage of Carnival in its history:
- 42hrs of broadcast across eight of NHC’s sound systems.
- Wider coverage of sound systems and Carnival at large.
- as well as helping to develop a sustainable funding model, Comprehensive coverage of sound systems and parades across the Carnival weekend.
It is quite clear to see the plan and structure of Boiler Room from these highlighted themes. So the question is, do we indeed try to save our carnival? How do we do it? Who can lead? Moreover, how do we obtain the necessary, essential, guaranteed funding.
The Public Meeting
A public meeting was actually held on Monday 25th September, to address the negativity towards the carnival and the lack of appreciation towards the art.
I did not manage to attend the meeting, but a friend who had done, broke it down under the following points:
1). The panel of people who called the meeting stressed that they are not a new committee or out to replace any existing committee – they were collating people’s views
2) The majority of the meeting was in regard to actions to move forward and also to address the points of what was going wrong
3) Questions around funding – how it is applied and spent
4). RBKC were present and advised all attending, of another public action meeting that is pending for Monday 30th October. Members of the Police, LNHCET, RBKC etc will meet to plan NHC 2018… Pepe (incumbent LNHCET chairman), is allegedly on the panel
5). There was talk of voluntary boycotting NHC2018 if certain demands were not met (there were lots that did not agree with that idea).
6). LNHCET were represented by Pepe (LNHCET Chairman), but he didn’t contribute to the meeting. However, things seemed to go wrong when *a woman arrived and it seemed to disgruntle him (it was obvious that there was prior friction). Pepe actually left the building when he realised whom she was and to avoid any potential confrontation.
*Presently, it is unknown who she was and the reason for the alleged friction.
7). A few young people spoke of the need to engage and involve the youth, which was agreed by all
The next meeting is scheduled for the 30th October to question funding, how money is being spent, the running and the competency of the LNHCET.
I would like to round off by stating that crime is an abhorrent problem, not just in London but in all carnivals around the world. However, the London safety issues do need to be addressed. Year after year, we have seen controls are improving, but it is apparent that we need legitimate governance, improved leadership and secured annual funding to pave a path for a better, safer, enjoyable carnival.
So let’s see what transpires, as the way I see it, the London Notting Hill Carnival deserves the same spotlight and staging and Glastonbury – let’s see what we can do to make that happen. I just hope that many of you will try to turn up and be a much needed, joint force to voice to our concerns.