London Marathon bosses are to run the Brighton Marathon, enabling the event to go ahead next year, after an urgent town hall meeting today (Monday 28 November).
Councillors agreed that London Marathon Events, which organises Britain’s biggest annual marathon, should take over from Grounded Events which is in financial trouble.
Opposition councillors asked why they had not been told about the seriousness of the situation until just a “few days” before the meeting today.
And the Conservative and Labour councillors complained that they knew nothing about talks with London Marathon Events.
Conservative councillor Samer Bagaeen asked how Grounded Events had managed to run up a £150,000 debt with Brighton and Hove City Council and why it was being “bailed out”.
He also asked why nothing was done to stop the company from continuing to operate its website promoting the event which is scheduled for Sunday 2 April next year.
Donna Chisholm, an executive director at the council, said that it was not bailing out the company but protecting the money paid by charities and runners to enter the race next year.
London Marathon Events had agreed to honour all entries, she said, and the £150,000 debt was due for office space rented from the council.
Ms Chisholm said: “It is not uncommon for businesses to be in debt to the council if they are council tenants in one form or another.
“We were aware that Grounded Events and other tenants have back payments owing to the council.
“The council’s position is always to try to support local businesses to enable them to recover and give them as much leeway as we can to support that and jobs.”
She said that Grounded Events had assured the council several times that it had a recovery plan and was a viable business.
The council’s outdoor events manager Ian Baird said that the council could not control how companies promoted proposed events locally that did not have a licence – other than asking them to stop.
Labour councillor Amanda Evans was angry that opposition councillors had been kept in the dark about the seriousness of the situation.
Councillor Evans said: “I do think in a committee system of council, where the administration has only 20 seats out of 54, it’s a bit shocking that opposition spokespeople were not consulted at all and knew nothing about it when clearly there has been a lot of discussion about this.
She told the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture (TECC) Urgency Sub-Committee: “I’m a bit shocked we’ve only heard about this two to three days before an emergency sub-committee.”
After the meeting at Hove Town Hall, Councillor Bagaeen said: “This will, I suspect, be presented as a victory by the Greens for saving the Brighton Marathon.
“But this whole process was shambolic from start to finish and will end up costing us as a council a large amount of money, possibly running into £200,000 in debt and lost rental income.
“To start with, the administration had not communicated with the other groups the details of what was going on behind the scenes.
“GEC events (was) a council tenant – a company with little or no assets and a recipient of a government-backed covid business rates relief grant. (It) beggars belief.”
He added: “There was no contrition, no apology, no taking of responsibility and a concerted effort by the chair and officers to avoid further scrutiny beyond simply reporting outcomes at chair’s communications at a future TECC meeting.
“The residents of the city will want to know what will happen not only to the charity and runner debt but also to the money owed to the council by a company that was allowed by the administration to accumulate debt at a time when the Greens need to be more prudent with the public purse.”
Green councillor Martin Osborne, who chaired the urgency sub-committee meeting, said that the situation had changed just a few weeks ago when Grounded Events confirmed that it was in discussions about selling the business.
Councillor Osborne said that information about Grounded Events was “in the public domain” – and that the Conservative leader, Councillor Steve Bell, had asked about the company’s viability at the full council meeting last month.
At the start of this month, the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee granted landlord’s consent in principle for dozens of outdoor events on council land next year.
The list included the Brighton Marathon on Sunday 2 April. Councillors agreed the list without debate.
Councillor Osborne said: “We only really found out about the agreement last week so I haven’t been keeping information from the committee system.
“There are many considerations and conversations to be had on a number of issues and we’re trying to come up with a solution.”
Councillors spent almost an hour in a closed session discussing commercially sensitive details after asking about other organisations bidding to run the marathon and job security for Grounded Events staff.
After what Councillor Osborne described as a “robust” debate, Councillors Evans and Bagaeen both said that they were unhappy with how the decision was being forced on them.
But London Marathon Events was granted a licence to run the marathon in Brighton for the next three years, with the option of a two-year extension.
The legal and financial details of the formal licence agreement will be negotiated by senior council officials.
As a result of the agreement, Brighton and Hove will become eligible for funding from the London Marathon Charitable Trust.
The council said afterwards that it had to act quickly, adding: “It was only on (Friday) 11 November that Grounded Events confirmed to the council that they would not be able to pay debts owed to participants and local businesses relating to the 2022 event.
“This came after months of them saying they would be able to do so.”
Councillor Osborne said: “The Brighton Marathon these days has a national and international reputation.
“It is hugely important as a fundraising event for charities, and for bringing money into the local economy. I’m pleased that we have been able to agree a way for it to take place next year.
“We’ve had months of what have turned out to be false reassurances and broken promises from Grounded Events.
“I am appalled that they have left so many charities, local people and businesses – and of course the council – out of pocket.
“London Marathon Events has experience of running one of the world’s biggest marathons. I’m sure the 2023 Brighton Marathon will be a massive success. I believe event has a bright future and will go from strength to strength in the coming years.”
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.