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Thursday, August 13, 2020

SEC’s appeal wilts in the heat of Notting Hill Carnival


Notting Hill Carnival’s newly appointed event management company Street Event Co (SEC) has failed to live up to expectations. Respected carnival band leaders and organisers told Soca News that they are angry with “unprecedented” levels of disorganisation before and during this year’s event.

As reported earlier by Soca News, SEC – the trading name of London Street Events (LSE) – was appointed by the Notting Hill Carnival Strategic Partners Group to provide proper accountability and responsibility for the event.

The SPG is made of representatives of carnival organiser LNHCET, the police, emergency services, local councils and the Arts Council of England. SPG chose the brand-new and untried organisation run by former policeman David Morgan and fellow director Ortho Barnes without any tendering process, supposedly due to a lack of time.

SEC/LSE was effectively handed the £265,000 contract on a plate, but clearly struggled to cope with complex logistics of putting on Europe’s largest annual street festival. Mas bands complained of being kept in the dark, of being given conflicting instructions and of SEC trying to impose unrealistic requirements, which had been handed down from the police. More than one informant described SEC staff members as “running around like headless chickens”. Communications appear to have been a particular problem, which put additional stress on band leaders in the always-fraught days leading up to the bank holiday weekend.

A major justification for SEC’s appointment was to improve the public image of Carnival, which has often been unfairly tarnished by a skewed police news agenda. However, this work suffered a setback when SEC’s newly appointed communications director abruptly resigned after LNHCET suddenly took back control of Carnival’s social media platforms and website.

Despite the appointment of a replacement shortly afterwards, little further work seems to have been done and no media statements were released in the critical week before Carnival. SEC said it was not responsible for informing the media about events run by the arenas (Calypso Monarch, Panorama etc), even though these are an integral part of the overall Notting Hill Carnival ‘package’ and act as an important counter to negative headlines. We understand that the former communications director is claiming that SEC still owes him money.

A well-placed source told SN that he believed that SEC/LSE’s long-term aim is to set up lucrative franchise arrangements, selling off elements of the community festival to corporate interests, who would then run it for private profit. However, others feel that it may never get the chance to realise these ambitions if the contract is put out to competitive tender next year.

SEC did not reply to Soca News’s questions about reports that it was in dispute with LNHCET. SN has heard from multiple sources that SEC’s performance has caused serious divisions within the Trust’s board and that allegations have been raised about misuse of public funds. The board itself is coming under attack from frustrated carnivalists, who believe Carnival’s leaders are out of touch and unable to respond to the huge challenges posed by an increasingly assertive Metropolitan Police Service.

Despite these serious concerns and complaints, some of the judges who spoke to Soca News at mid-afternoon on Sunday said they were very impressed by the smooth running of Children’s Day on the road. From SN’s viewpoint in Great Western Road, the bands followed in quick succession. By about 4.15pm, some 50 groups (mas bands and steelbands) had passed, with the longest gap just 10 minutes being between Arawak and Dragons. This represents a major improvement, as in previous years bands sometimes passed the judging point after 10pm!