Free concerts have the public’s backing

AIDING TOURISM ... the Bents Park concerts seem to be value for money for South Tynesiders.

AIDING TOURISM ... the Bents Park concerts seem to be value for money for South Tynesiders.

THE cult of celebrity is not costing South Tyneside Council taxpayers dear, according to a poll of borough shoppers.

The authority came under fire from the national press this week.

Criticism centred on the local authority spending £285,600 on hiring acts, including Joe McElderry, Toploader and Rick Astley, to appear at free concerts in Bents Park, South Shields, over the past four summers.

The article claimed stars such as Stacey Solomon, Little Mix, Gareth Gates and Matt Cardle were of “dubious benefit”, and the story also referred to the concerts as a “taxpayer-funded knees-ups”.

Coun Alan Kerr, the deputy leader of the council, hit back saying the shows had helped generate millions of pounds for the borough’s tourist economy.

It is undeniable that the concerts are a big attraction, bringing thousands along to the town’s coastline.

And among the majority of people the Gazette approached in King Street shopping thoroughfare, there was a general acceptance that the council was right to pay for the star names.

South Shields Market trader Dave Rogers, 71, said: “In the big scheme of things, is £300,000 really such a large amount of money over three or four years, especially as it brings pleasure to thousands of people both inside and outside South Tyneside?

“The people who the concerts attract spend money in the shops.

“They buy drinks, ice cream and fish and chips. A few weeks later, they might say ‘let’s go back to South Shields’.

“Critics are being too negative over the money spent.”

Fellow market trader Robert Ridley is an outspoken critic of the council on many issues, but his view echoed those of his fellow stallholder.

He said: “At the very least, it is bringing people in and you can’t argue with that. There’s an awful lot I’d criticise about the council’s spending, but this is not one.”

Roofer Terry Cook, 56, of Crofton Street, South Shields, said the seaside concerts are not really his scene, but he was fully supportive of them.

He added: “They bring people into this town and that’s what is desperately needed. It’s a boost to tourism. What can be wrong with that?”

Shopper Terry Dawson, 57, said he was glad South Tyneside has not “done a Newcastle”.

He explained: “I’m glad they are pushing ahead with cultural investment. Concerts such as those in the Bents Park support community involvement, which is no bad thing.

“When Newcastle announced it was cutting its investment in the arts, there was a fear that every other authority around it would follow.

“It’s great that South Tyneside has resisted the temptation.”

But Lily Gibbons, 84, of Harbour View, South Shields, is far from convinced that the council’s investment is justified.

She said: “That money could be much better spent. Look at King Street.

“It’s full of bookmakers and phone shops. It’s a mess.

“That’s where the investment needs to be, not in paying so-called stars lots of money.”

That view was echoed by her niece, Dorothy Bold, 74, visiting from Sunderland, who added: “South Shields is a market town and the council should be investing in its market first and foremost.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul


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