London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises Trust (LNHCET) has reportedly accepted the need to bring in professional help to run London’s annual carnival, which last year celebrated its golden jubilee.
According to a report submitted to the Public Realm Scrutiny Committee of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) on 27 March, LNHCET has finally recognised that it needs to employ an event management company. In recent years, this small group of volunteers has struggled to maintain its hold on the festival and has been heavily criticised for its ineffectiveness by police, politicians, councils, residents, media and carnival participants.
Professional management would ensure that a single organiser is responsible for all aspects of the event, including planning, health and safety, managing contractors and participants, and “improving and developing the artistic experience of Carnival”. An event manager would also exercise better control over participants, “ensuring that the nature of their participation is appropriate for the event nature and venue” (the report does not reveal which existing forms of participation are considered inappropriate).
A major aim of the proposed strategy would be to reduce the amount of police needed to maintain law and order and public safety at the event, which attracts more than a million people. Policing is costly because it involves Sunday and bank holiday overtime pay, and it is hoped that “a significant number of high quality stewards” can be employed to take over some of these duties.
RBKC supports carnival financially, but is in the final year of its funding agreement with LNHCET. The Trust is said to accept the need to place the event on a more sustainable footing, but currently lacks the resources to make this happen. However, it has pledged to “explore all income opportunities” including creating a sponsorship strategy and taking over stall pitches from the council, which it could then use to generate revenue – as used to happen in the past.
The most contentious point is the suggestion that the Trust should review, with its partners, “the feasibility, legality and impact of ticketing Carnival”. Whenever this proposal is raised it generates a backlash from opponents who argue passionately that Carnival should be free for all to attend. There would, in any case, be immense challenges in controlling entry and exit to such a large urban area while allowing free movement for residents.
A professional event manager would be expected to “counter the current negative narrative attached to Carnival” and “to provide considerably more information on Carnival to residents and the community in future”. The Trust’s public relations and media handling are widely agreed to be lamentable, and have allowed a strident anti-Carnival tone to flourish unchecked in sections of the UK media.
The council report was itself the victim of inaccurate reporting. London’s daily paper, the Evening Standard, on 3 April headlined its article “Council in renewed call for Notting Hill Carnival to be ticket-only event”. A spokesman for RBKC told Soca News: “It [the report] does not call for ticketing and the Council has never called for ticketing… it is simply looking at proposals from the organisers.”
Despite some concerns, the council remains broadly supportive of Notting Hill Carnival. The report, by the executive director for leisure and amenity services, states: “Notting Hill Carnival is part of London’s history and forms an iconic part of our identity as a global city. The event is unique and has grown organically over the years since its inception, to become distinctly different in scale and composition.”