Notting Hill Carnival Limited (NHCL) is likely to be organising Notting Hill Carnival for the next three years and receive funding of £300,000 in grants from the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC).

At a meeting last week, a council-appointed consultative panel of local residents, carnival community representatives, local councillors and ‘strategic partners’ unanimously backed the NHCL bid over those of three rival groups.

RBKC said in a statement:

The panel noted the successful Carnival earlier this year, the first one organised by NHCL. They also cited NHCL’s commitment to improving Carnival year-on-year and increasing the environmental sustainability of the event in their decision.

Cllr Gerard Hargreaves, RBKC lead member communities and culture, added:

We respect Carnival as something that belongs to the community. We introduced the panel as we wanted local people and groups to have more of a choice in the decision on who receives our money.

I would like to thank personally the members of the Carnival community and local people who took part in the Carnival Grant Advisory Panel. Their personal knowledge and experience of Carnival over the years demonstrates the huge cultural significance it holds for many groups.

With their recommendations I’m sure we can award the grant to the organisers best able to provide a safe and spectacular event that has the backing of the community.

The council will now assess the bids and announce its definitive decision on 13 November. However, it would be surprising if it overturned the panel’s verdict.

Four organisations are bidding for the money, which will be paid as three consecutive annual grants of £100,000. In addition to NHCL, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Village Trust (CVT), the bidders were the Notting Hill Carnival Roadshow Company, Otho, and Times International.

The Tabernacle, home of Carnival Village

CVT runs the well-known arts and community hub The Tabernacle, Powis Square, in London W11, and also the Yaa Centre in Chippenham Mews. The Tabernacle is the headquarters of Mangrove Steelband and the home of the annual London Calypso Tent; the Yaa Centre houses Ebony Steelband’s panyard.

Controversially, CVT/NHCL was awarded the grant to run last year’s event after RBKC withdrew funding from the previous organiser, London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust (LNHCET). The latter, under the chairmanship of Ebony Steelband leader Pepe Francis MBE, was widely criticised for being ineffectual and failing to abide by the terms of its own constitution – although it called itself a ‘trust’ it was not a registered charity and did not publish full accounts. However, LNHCET board members countered that the organisation was grossly under-funded and its activities were being undermined by RBKC and the Metropolitan Police.

Matters came to a head when RBKC and other ‘strategic partners’ appointed – without a competitive tendering process – a separate event management company, London Street Events aka Street Event Company, run by Ortho Barnes and David Morgan. After its bruising encounter with carnival politics in 2017, LSE/SEC made it clear that it would not be seeking to run the event in 2019. Morgan told Soca News that its involvement was likely to be limited to assisting some of the static sounds with licence applications.

The Carnival Roadshow Company is run by former Notting Hill Carnival leader Claire Holder OBE. Its bid had gathered considerable support from those in the Carnival community who were dissatisfied with the degree of control being exercised over the event by the councils and the police. Campaigning group Reclaim Our Carnival and other community activists had mostly put their weight behind Holder’s application, with at least one group withdrawing in favour of the Carnival Roadshow Company. The panel rejected the bid on the grounds that it did not provide sufficient operational or financial details. Holder protested that it was impossible to provide such detail without knowing what the other strategic partners – which include Westminster City Council, the Greater London Authority and the Arts Council of England – would contribute. RBKC said that bidders had been given the opportunity beforehand to ask questions, “including on the financial information behind the event”.

The identities of the individuals behind Otho and Times International and the nature of their bids are not yet known.

Although the use of a proper tender process and the inclusion of a broad-based panel to assess the bids were meant to remove accusations of favouritism and under-the-table deals, the announcement seems unlikely to dispel disquiet over the way the council disburses public money and exercises its powers at Notting Hill Carnival.

Soca News has heard allegations from two independent and well-placed sources that RBKC had already taken the decision to continue funding NHCL well before the bidding process was started. Although remarks of this kind can easily be dismissed as unfounded, the presence of CVT partner Pepe Francis on the panel has caused considerable concern and given rise to accusations that RBKC has not presented rival bidders with a level playing field. One respected member of the community summed up an apparently widespread feeling: “It is a very strange world we live in now, when beneficiaries of contracts vote themselves into the scheme by sitting on the panel.”

In response, an RBKC spokesman told Soca News:

…prospective resident and carnival community panellists were required to sign a Declaration of Interest form, confirming no conflict of interest with an organisation submitting an expression of interest in the grant award, in order to take up their position on the panel.

Meetings held over the past year by Reclaim Our Carnival have demonstrated that there is a deep-rooted anger at the way RBKC appears to have wrested control of Notting Hill Carnival from the community and from Carnival’s artistic and cultural creators. More broadly, serious questions have been raised about the council’s real commitment to transparency and its compliance with local authority best practice in the awarding of contracts. Despite the emollient assurances of Cllr Hargreaves, this decision is unlikely to dispel that unhappiness.