Great Yarmouth council starts to claw back £45k tourism ‘cock-up’

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yarmouth pic stories 0103 - Credit: Archant

A debt of £45,000 is finally being paid back to cash-strapped Great Yarmouth Borough Council – three years late.

At a time when every penny counts, the Labour administration has accused former Conservative leaders of failing to recoup money owed to the borough.

Great Yarmouth Tourism Authority should have been paying the council £15,000 a year since 2009 when it won a contract to sell advertising on the borough’s Public Information Pillars (PIPs).

But no money was ever paid.

The Tourism Authority had claimed it could not pay because it was owed money by PIP owners Sutton Media, which it says agreed to pay a sum of money in return for selling advertising.

Sutton Media denies that it entered an agreement with the Tourism Authority, but told the Mercury it has now agreed to pay money in instalments as they “accept they have been advertising and earning money in Great Yarmouth for the past three years”.

Whatever happened between Sutton Media and the Tourism Authority, the council was left out of pocket as it has been paying Great Yarmouth Town Centre Partnership £15,000 a year – and that funding was meant to be offset by the money coming from the PIPs, which are dotted around the town centre and the main areas leading to the seafront - as well as along the seafront.

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At Wednesday night’s full council meeting Councillor Michael Jeal, cabinet member for tourism, said it was only after Labour had come to power did the council take action to claw the money back.

Firmly putting the blame on the previous administration, Cllr Jeal said the Conservatives had “failed” to collect the debt.

He said: “We wanted the Tourism Authority to take legal action against Sutton Media or the council would have to take legal action against the Tourism Authority.

“Fortunately they have now come to an agreement and a terms of payment, which means Sutton Media will pay £2,500 a month over a course of 18 months.”

Speaking to the Mercury after the meeting, Cllr Jeal added: “I don’t know why the last administration didn’t chase the money.

“I knew about it, but I was one person on a committee of Tories and would not have been listened to.”

He added: “As soon as we gained control, I went to the Tourism Authority and when I told them we wanted the money, they got to work.

“It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but an agreement has been made and that £45,000 is now being paid back.”

David Marsh, chairman of the Tourism Authority, said it was a “storm in teacup”.

“The council was not paid because we were waiting for money from Sutton Media,” he said.

“There was an understanding there would be a payment coming from Sutton Media.

“When we first got the licence we intended to buy our own PIPs but instead we decided to use Sutton Media as an agent and take a proportion of the money made.

“The money is now being paid.”

Neil Oakden of Sutton Media - a national firm that owns the PIPs in towns and cities around the UK, said he wished Great Yarmouth Tourism Authority all the best but warned that increasing the cost of advertising space on the PIPs may not prove popular with local businesses.

“If I was a local trader I might be happy that they’ve got control of the pillars, but I would not be happy that they were trebling my costs,” he said.

The arrears were laid bare at the council’s meeting on Wednesday night after a member of the public asked if there was a discrepancy between the money received and the money owned for the PIPs.

Speaking after the meeting Labour councillor Jamie Smith said: “This is just one in a long line of cockups the Tories have tried to brush under the carpet during their 12 years of mismanagement.

“The Labour Party will continue to be open and transparent with the public and publish further examples over the next few months.”