IN FULL: Peterborough City Council letter and Willow Festival organiser's response

The row between Peterborough City Council and the organiser of the Willow Festival, Mark Ringer, has escalated in the past couple of days.

Thursday, 2nd June 2016, 11:38 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd June 2016, 12:42 pm
Willow Festival 2014 at Embankment. Crowds enjoying the event
Willow Festival 2014 at Embankment. Crowds enjoying the event

Councillor Janet Goodwin, cabinet member for city centre management, culture and tourism, issued a long letter to councillors (which was forwarded to the Peterborough Telegraph) which criticised Mr Ringer.

In turn, Mr Ringer responded with a lengthy post on Facebook defending himself against the accusations.

Both posts can be read in full:

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Janet Goodwin:

Dear Colleague

I have been asked by Councillor Holdich, Leader of the Council, in my role as Cabinet Member for City Centre Management, Culture and Tourism to review a decision made by this Council not to allow the Embankment to be used for the Willow Festival this year and to write to set out my findings. In doing so, I have considered carefully the context within which the decision was made as well as the facts which informed the decision.

The events team in Peterborough City Council has been responsible, for many years, for a number of successful events which include the following:

. Great Eastern Run, which is regarded as a premier gold standard running event in the country.

. Community Festivals, such as Diwali.

. Tour Series which is a national and televised bike race in the city centre.

. Olly Murs concert, working with a national promoter.

. Bryan Adams concert, on 5th August 2016 working with a national promoter.

. Olympic Torch event working with Lord Coe and Government.

. Numerous festival events working with Vivacity.

. Beer Festival in a facilitation role.

For each of these events the relationship between the organisers, participants and the council team have been constructive, trusting and respectful which has been a major factor in the success of these events. This success can also be attributed to the organisers submitting competent and detailed event plans and health and safety plans in a timely fashion.

This has enabled the council team, police and other relevant authorities to scrutinise and approve those plans in plenty of time for the event to take place.

The council supports the overall concept of a musical festival in the format of a Willow Festival. The council championed its return in 2012 and financially supported it to the tune of £100,000 for the years 2012/2013.

Having said this, the experience of working with the organiser, Mark Ringer, has been in stark contrast to the events set out above. I have found, in my review of this decision, the following difficulties which have been experienced not only by this council, but by the police in dealing with Mr Ringer. They are as follows:-

. In 2012, it was discovered, an hour before the event was due to open that, the security cover was inadequate. The police objected to the opening of the event with this inadequate coverage. The council immediately stepped in and arranged for more security cover at the council’s expense to

ensure the event opened safely.

. In 2012, Mr Ringer failed to employ a competent noise consultant which was his responsibility (he actually employed a DJ with no experience or qualifications in this field) so the council, at its own expense, stepped in at the last minute and employed a noise consultant to ensure the event could open on time.
. In 2013 on the day before the event was due to open, the police threatened to demand a review of the licence due to insufficient security cover for the event which was in conflict with the numbers promised in the plan submitted by Mr Ringer to the Safety Advisory Group who oversee the safety of the event.

At this point Mr Ringer irresponsibly walked off site and said he had cancelled the event, leaving the businesses and concessions uncertain about their position. The Chief Executive, Annette Joyce, Mr Ringer and Mr Ringer’s business partner met the next day, as a matter of urgency, and the council agreed to pay £10,000 to employ extra security cover.

. In 2014, on the Sunday there was an issue with the safety of one of the stages. The Chief Executive and Annette Joyce were called by the police to the site because Mr Ringer’s safety officer could not be found and Mr Ringer declined to give the police the safety officer’s telephone number. The Chief Executive and Annette Joyce refused to leave the site until a proper evaluation of the structural integrity of the stage was completed by the stage crew and the stage was therefore deemed to be safe.

. Later on the same Sunday in 2014, the police called the Chief Executive and Annette Joyce back to the site. In addition the Silver Police Commander from Bedfordshire Police also attended the site as the security team were threatening to leave the event as they had not been paid.

A decision was required as to whether to close the event. After some negotiation it is understood that a partial payment was made to the security firm and the security cover continued.

. In 2015 the Leader of the Council asked two leading opposition councillors to work with Mr Ringer to enable the event to take place in the summer of that year. After attempting to work with Mr Ringer and agreeing deadlines for paperwork and plans to be submitted, he failed to achieve this and also

failed to attract the necessary funding for the event.

The knock on effect for the council was that, at very short notice, an alternative venue for the Skills Fair, which runs alongside the Willow Festival, had to be found.

. In 2016, the events team was approached to run the event again and I attach a letter from Annette Joyce dated 26 May which sets out the basis for the council’s decision not to proceed to allow use of the Embankment. I have read this letter and checked the facts contained therein and confirm that

they are correct.

In addition to the above I have noted that the events team, in order to facilitate the Willow Festival, has applied only minimum safety and other requirements to the running of the event whereas other organisers often exceed those minimum requirements.

As can be seen from the above, Mr Ringer has failed to maintain even these minimum requirements. Having reviewed the above, including reading many of the emails sent by Mr Ringer, I have concluded that the decision not to allow use of the Embankment is wholly justified.

Aside from the safety concerns and the considerable efforts made by the council to secure this event with a considerable financial contribution, Mr

Ringer’s abusive behaviour has not created the kind of trusting and respectful relationship that make events such as these a success as well as safe for families and children to attend.

Further, the decisions made by the council were also designed to protect Mr Ringer and his potential liabilities. I would conclude by saying that those who are questioning the council should better address their questions to Mr Ringer and no doubt with the facts in their possession they will now do so.

Mr Ringer’s response

Please accept this letter in response to Cllr Janet Goodwin’s letter to the press, public and ourselves dated 1st June 2016.

Part 1:

Janet states that her letter is based on facts which informed the council’s decision, but then goes on to ignore the facts behind each situation and fails to elaborate or give any background to each accusation. So I intend to supply that background for clarity and balance.

But let’s start with Janet’s opening comments, that claim the council’s events team has been responsible for many successful events.

Back in 1995 when I perceived The Willow Festival, the city was void of any major arts events. The Peterborough Festival was at that time based around classical themed events held within the Cathedral and there were no large popular arts events in the city at all.

So I decided to develop them. Not the city council team, but myself. So I approached PCC for help and very kindly Colin Wise of the city council offered to help me do just that.

At that time, the Embankment was almost unused, except for the circus and fledgling beer festival. The country music festival was a distant memory and the car shows hadn’t been held there for over 15 years. So it was my idea to re-invigorate the Embankment and city centre arts programme starting with a music festival that was inclusive for all locally. The Willow Festival.

A year later I was instrumental along with a small team of council employees in bringing together over 80 arts groups to formulate what would become the most successful festival of the arts the city has ever seen. The Peterborough Festival came of age and eventually became a three week extravaganza with The Willow Festival as it’s centre piece.

I then set up further shows on the embankment and the town square and ran the first ever organised city centre New Year’s eve celebrations with a small PCC arts team, complete with live bands and attractions. We also ran the national BBC music live event from the town square and started the first ever local live music venue that booked original songwriters and artists.

So I was instrumental in making the city a place where other promoters may wish to stage events, and that is what happened. The concerts on the Embankment that followed, were as a direct result of our successes in making Peterborough and the embankment site an attraction for promoters.

Indeed the very promoters that staged most of these shows wanted to buy The Willow Festival from me back in 2003 and turn it in to a commercial event, but I refused to sell it to them on the grounds that it was here for the city, not for anybody’s personal financial gain.

So it was much to do with my efforts that brought the city the opportunities it now has regarding commercial exploitation of large scale music events on the Embankment, not the current council team’s. The Willow Festival put the venue on the map as it were and the current council team are now reaping the benefits of that, so I have succeeded in my goals.

I have also supported Peterborough Beer Festival and supplied it’s music programme in the recent past on a volunteer basis and free use of infrastructure I own.

I have produced events and worked with many organisations over many years and still do cordially. I have vast experience of events management and have presided over all manner of productions without ever finding myself in court or facing any type of legal action.

Part 2:

With regard to our security situation in 2012 Cllr Janet Goodwin suggests that in the eyes of the police we would have been woefully under staffed security wise in 2012 without the sudden intervention of the council.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We had made depositions to the Police for some time that what was being asked of us was overkill and totally unnecessary regarding our security presence. Our very experienced security company set the levels of security cover they felt was more than adequate and they agreed with us and supported our depositions.

We were under the impression that all was fine until a late demand for more security by the police was brought to us. This wasn’t in the last hour, but the day previously. We again tried make our case and so did our security firm, but to no avail. The council did indeed step in and pay for more security, but as far as I am aware, this came out of our allocated budget and I wasn’t privy to how the council spent the funds allocated to us.

In the end, we were right. The additional security was indeed overkill and not required. And as they were not the very competent security company I hired, we had no idea of the quality of them, and we did discover some of them standing behind the beer marquee having a pint and generally disengaged with the event.

It’s interesting to note that we were commended by the police force after the event for how little trouble the event had caused and how well it had been managed. To paraphrase a senior officer, he said, “we gave you enough rope to hang yourself”, but of course all was fine. One police officer told me in 2012 the event had made the city centre a much calmer place over the weekend.

Part 3:

With regard to the noise consultant I hired to cover the 2012 event he was indeed more than competent and had completed work satisfactorily in this field for other councils on many occasions. He was very experienced at noise monitoring and of determining safe and legal sound levels at many events in the past.

It was the council who overstepped their remit in insisting on having a qualified noise person to monitor sound levels. UK law does not state this is necessary and neither does the Purple Guide. And even as late as 2015, when the inexperienced and new to the job Stuart Saunders was employed as a licensing officer for PCC, I demonstrated in front of Cllr Bella Saltmarsh, Cllr Adrian Miners and Cllr Kieth Sharp using the council’s own Purple Guide that this was indeed the case.

In effect the council was making up it’s own rules over and above UK legal requirements. To date, The Willow Festival has never exceeded UK laws regarding noise pollution and has never received a complaint that could be upheld, as it has always acted within the law. Indeed, In the entire history of The Willow Festival, I can only recall three noise complaints, and two of those were from the same person over a two year period, and when sound levels were measured by “qualified” engineers, it was found that the festival was just under half of it’s legally and council agreed limits.

Part 4:

With regard to 2013 security, again we raised security staffing over and above the previous year’s numbers, even though these numbers were proven not to be needed in 2012. However, a portion of those security staff were booked on an on call only basis, so that if we did need them, we could call them in on standby. We didn’t need a repeat of the previous year where we had far too many security than was required and they were standing around without anything to do.

This was the plan presented at the SAG ( Saftey Advisory Group) meeting that year by our security company.

However, the police insisted at a very late date that we have all of these extra security staff available much of the time or they would not permit the event to run. So I told them if they pursued this that I may have to cancel the event and I went off to the council in an immediate attempt to gain their support with our security plans and seek a solution. They did not support my sensible and reasonable arguments, but instead paid for extra security.

Even though the council decided to pay for 10k’s worth of extra security, this was not out of any extra budget, as it had been agreed that a ceiling of 60K would be set aside for The Willow Festival that year, so no extra funds other than what was promised was spent.

It is also stated that myself, Annette Joyce and my business partner met on that day, but my business partner was not present and has never been present at a council meeting.

Part 5:

With regard to the stage tear incident in 2014, I did not refuse to give the telephone number of our Health & Safety officer to the police or anybody else for that matter.

It is not a requirement under law that the event health and safety officer has to be on site at any time at all, other than to oversee construction events, sign the site off as safe when we are ready to run the event and then oversee the breakdown. However he was on site most of the weekend and on call if we needed him.

During the Sunday a tear appeared in one of the canvas sides of a stage cover, which is similar to a marquee. It happened due to a freak gust of wind pushing a tower light into the canvas and tearing it. Wind measurements are recorded at all times on the stage structures, and it was not a windy day.

A pole came loose and needed securing from swaying about. However, as alarming as this was, none of this was anything to do with the structural integrity of the stage or the safety of the stage to be used.

Performances were halted on the stage, the staging company’s representative checked it over as did our very experienced stage crew, and after they assured us there were no safety issues, the show continued.

We telephoned our highly qualified health and safety officer to attend the site and give us his opinion, he appeared and also gave clearance that all was indeed safe.

During this whole process we had a police sergeant, Annette Joyce and CEO Gillian Beasley interfering in our organisational processes for managing this type of incident. None of these people are qualified or experienced in stage building or structural engineering and they were all told on site by highly qualified and experienced people that everything was safe and that there were no safety issues, which of course there were not.

Part 6:

With regard to payment for the security organisation for The Willow Festival 2014, the security company were paid in full prior to the event and any suggestion that they were not is frankly libellous. Indeed, they would not have attended if the £28,000 payment had not been made.

The security company have on several occasions offered to support me where my financial integrity is concerned and the council have been told this on many occasions by both myself and the company in question. I still do business with them today and have done for many years.

There were issues with payments due to them by other parties, but they could not have (due to contractual agreements) and would not have walked off site over this.

Part 7:

With regard to the leader of the council asking two opposition councillors to work with us to enable the event to take place in 2015, if he did, we never saw them and the reason for cancellation of the event was because of last minute unreasonable demands that were being made of us by a new and inexperienced licensing officer employed by PCC.

We were threatened by this new and inexperienced licensing officer that if we didn’t comply with his demands that the festival would not go ahead.

But his demands included that the council have access to all of our business contacts and sponsors. This was clearly a conflict of interests, as the council is a commercial entity and except for having access to our accounts and our financial / budget plans they have no right to be talking to our contacts about us. I’m sure if we wanted to talk to all of the council’s contacts about them, that we would be blocked from doing so too.

This all happened during the period that we had no leader of the council and over the election battle, and no councillor was in overall control. Because of this, it took us about eight days to get a meeting with the licensing officer and councillors, and these eight days were at a crucial period of our organisational year, just a couple of weeks before the festival and we could not finalise all of our infrastructure bookings because of the uncertainty of getting a license.

When we finally got the meeting, we explained our reasoning behind not wishing to supply this information to the council in front of Cllr Keith Sharp, Cllr Bella Saltmarsh, Cllr Adrian Miners and the licensing officer, and it was agreed that in future a basic one page financial plan was all we would need to provide. Which is what we supplied this year on Jan 25th.

We were also being asked to provide a different type of management plan than we had ever been required to produce in the past. What we had was indeed legal and perfectly acceptable in law and we had never had a history of our paperwork not being satisfactory or incomplete.

We were also being asked to do things which were beyond any legal requirement, and again we proved this in the same meeting with Cllr Adrian Miners, Cllr Keith Sharp, Cllr Bella Sltmarsh and the licensing officer.

By the time we were in a position of agreement to run the festival, it was too late to secure the infrastructure needed to do so and this was the reason we had to postpone the event in 2015.

It is true we were struggling for finances too, but we were in 2014 and we still produced a very successful and safe event.

Part 8

On to 2016. It was agreed in a meeting in 2015 with Cllr Keith Sharp, Cllr Adrian Miners, Cllr Bella Saltmarsh and Stuart Saunders that we would supply a financial plan and appropriate paperwork as per the new licensing officers wishes.

The management plan is working document and is altered and added to right up to the first day of the festival. This was requested and supplied to the licensing officer at the end of 2015 and he was very pleased with it and recommended our plans be approved by Annette Joyce.

An updated version was taken to the SAG ( Safety Advisory Group) meeting in 2016 an no complaints or further requests were made about it there. The licensing officer wasn’t present. An updated version was sent to the licensing officer also. We did say we would send a monthly update, but we admit this was not done. However, the document is available and always is and there is no legal requirement for us to send a monthly update as such. We would submit an update upon request, but were never requested to do so. We would also naturally take this document to meetings and have it looked over much closer to the festival dates, when it nears completion.

The suggestion by Cllr Janet Goodwin that we only apply minimum safety requirements to our events compared to other organisers, is frankly insulting. We have achieved a fantastic record of safety with very high consideration for public health and safety issues, as is borne out by the fact that the council have even adopted our own security firm and approach for their own events now. This was a ridiculous statement by Cllr Janet Goodwin and ill informed.

I have also been accused of being abusive? It’s true I have lost my cool on occasion, but that was also borne of frustration at being treated like an idiot at times and by the continual lack of proper input and support from Peterborough Council. The financial support for two years was simply fantastic, but the officer support was dreadful.

I even ended up getting a summons for £1000.00 per poster for putting posters up where the council told me I could do so! I had to fight the case against the council and it was dropped! Should I not get annoyed at this type of incompetence and abuse?

We have the finance for 2016, we have all the legal documentation, we are successful at what we do, we have the public supporting us, but what we don’t have is a coherent and supportive council.

We believe councillors are being mislead by their officers and we will happily defend any accusation laid against us.