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Community / Smaller scale events an option as council to decide on Tall Ships bid

The Polish ship Dar Mlodziezy at the 2011 Tall Ships in Shetland. Photo: Billy Fox

A BUSINESS case into the merits of bidding to host the Tall Ships Races in 2023 has concluded that Shetland Islands Council (SIC) could be better off focusing on smaller scale events instead.

Last year councillors backed plans for the isles to bid for large events in the future, like the tall ships and the island games, in the hope of providing a boost to locals as well as bringing in more visitors.

A business justification case on the SIC supporting a bid for the 2023 Tall Ships Races is now due to be presented to councillors next week – but vying for the event has not been highlighted as the preferred option when all factors have been taken into account.

Based on “scoring against economic impact, benefits and risks”, the council dropping the Tall Ships Races 2023 interest and instead supporting and/or sponsoring the development of small scale events and festivals has been picked as the preferred option.

This, however, is said to be the lowest risk option – with bidding for the tall ships the highest ranked option when it comes to economic benefit.

Councillors will be asked next week whether they should press ahead with the tall ships bid or go down the route of small scale events and festivals.

The first tall ships race was held in 1956, and it has grown over the years to become an annual event held across the world which attracts a large number of participants and spectators.

Shetland hosted the Tall Ships Races in 1999 and 2011, and in the chamber last year it was noted that the economic impact was secondary to the boost to the community.

The cost of hosting the Tall Ships Races in 2023 is estimated at £2.5 million, and supporting the bid would require a financial commitment from the SIC of up to £1.39 million.

The rest of the funding is projected to come from corporate sponsorship, in-kind contributions from the likes of Lerwick Port Authority and ticket sales.

The £1.39 million would require to be drawn unsustainably from council reserves, which would be in contravention of the medium term financial plan.

A report from business development team leader Thomas Coutts suggests that the financial impact could be mitigated by drawing on money received by the council through disbursement to local authorities of net revenue from Crown Estate assets.

In September Shetland Islands Council was allocated just over £1 million from the net revenue generated by these assets for 2019/20.

Using estimated visitor spend from the 2011 Tall Ships event as a baseline, the business justification case projects a net benefit of £600,000 if Shetland was to host the 2023 event.

This figure is taken from an estimated net expenditure in Shetland at the 2023 event of around £3 million, which is based on projected spend from spectators, crew, sponsors, media and volunteers.

If Shetland was to host the event, the SIC would act as the signatory to the host port contract, and Shetland Tall Ships Ltd – which was set up in 2008 – would deliver the contract obligations on behalf of the council.

Developing a small-scale events strategy, meanwhile, would require an estimated budget from the SIC of £100,000 a year. As a result, this was picked as the best value option in the business justification case.

A bid for the 2023 event would need to be submitted by early 2020 if it gets councillors’ backing.

The business justification case will go in front of councillors at the policy and resources committee on Monday and the full council two days later.