How much does ‘free’ really cost?

20 Aug
The headline act at Under The Stars - every night

The headline act at Under The Stars – every night

The Newham Recorder dutifully reports that a total “around 35,000 people” attended the four nights of live music Under The Stars over the past weekend.

This was the 14th outing for Newham Council’s “musical extravaganza,” which aims “to entertain residents and visitors alike.”

Despite proclaiming that this year was “the best one ever,” the mayor was in strangely defensive mood:

Some people have asked why we continue to spend money on events like this. I say it’s important to keep investing in the things residents tell us they like and make a difference to their lives.

This year 35,000 people have told us they like it. That’s why we will continue to bring the whole of Newham together. And best of all, it’s free.

Well, let’s take a moment to unpick that.

First of all, 35,000 people have told you nothing of the kind. You offered them four nights of entertainment with no tickets or admission fees and, on a warm summer weekend, they took you up on it.

As for bringing ‘the whole of Newham together,’ the total population of the borough is somewhere north of 300,000. Allowing for a number of visitors from Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and elsewhere among the crowd, barely 10% of Newham residents attended these events. While that’s a decent turnout, it’s a very long way from being ‘the whole of Newham’.

And finally no, Sir Robin, these events are not free.

There may be no tickets and no admission charge, but the cost of putting them on is met by someone. In fact it’s us, the people of Newham, through our council tax. The claim, which is repeated ad nauseam by the council and parroted by the Recorder, that events are ‘free’ makes it sound like they are provided by the mayor out of his own pocket, or funded by happy thoughts and pixie dust.

What other things that “make a difference” to the lives of Newham people could the money spent on Under The Stars have bought? A new primary school? Weekly rather than fortnightly recycling collections? More home help for vulnerable old people? Who knows.

That is the real cost of the Mayor’s ‘free’ entertainments – the things we don’t get because the money’s being spent on bread and circuses.

Sir Robin is the elected mayor and perfectly entitled to pursue his policy priorities – but he isn’t entitled to pretend they come without real costs to residents or at the expense of alternatives.

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2 Responses to “How much does ‘free’ really cost?”

  1. A.S August 20, 2013 at 21:55 #

    As someone who lives near the park, I can assure you that not everyone likes this event. 4 evenings of disturbance (a pain for those of us that have to work) followed by parking chaos and screeching people making their way back to their cars etc. If it was only Friday and Saturday at least it would give some of us the option of going away for the weekend.

  2. Birdman August 22, 2013 at 08:00 #

    I lived in Newham for over 50 years and regularly questioned why these events were called free, along with why the Newham Town Show had started to be called the Mayor’s show. It is of course just free propoganda for Sir Robin Wales and his well paid cronies and no doubt helps with their election campaign. The Newham Recorder’s continuing habit of just reprinting Town Hall press releases means that there is no informed comment or debate about the way public money is spent and one is just left with the feeling that the vast majority of Newham will continue to get shafted by a Tory Mayor, Cabinet and Councillors who rule under the guise of Labour.

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