From the business desk: Time for council to save Worthing Birdman?

DM153918a.jpg Worthing Birdman competition. Tony Hughes. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150817-091949008
DM153918a.jpg Worthing Birdman competition. Tony Hughes. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150817-091949008

WORTHING Birdman has the potential to generate global publicity like no other event held in the Herald and Gazette area.

That is just one major reason to ensure the wacky event is kept in town no matter what.

But after last week’s shock news over the uncertainty of its future, who should cover the costs?

For eight years, businesses part of the Town Centre Initiative have picked up the tab, hoping the thousands of visitors flocking to the seafront would make cash tills ring.

Sadly, for all its tourism benefits, the business spin-off has not rippled past the seafront and through the town centre.

And now it is gobbling up a third of the TCI’s annual budget due to soaring costs, many businesses have questioned the event’s value for money.

Its future now seems to hang on securing a major sponsor – which has not been forthcoming in previous years – or Worthing Borough Council stepping in to save the day.

As a starting point, I firmly believe everyone involved, from businesses to politicians, would be aghast to see Birdman fly away from sunny Worthing.

But we could well be in for a long debate as the sums are done by council officers to see if taking on part, or all of the event’s funding, is viable.

With the business benefit in question the event’s main attraction is putting the town on the map. In other words, it is a clear tourism opportunity.

That suggests it is something the council should be looking to run.

Granted, the quoted £70,000 running costs would be a meaty chunk of its dwindling council budget – it would represent the equivalent of a one per cent increase in council tax.

But could the existing tourism budget be spent more wisely? How much does the authority currently spend on glossy brochures and could this be done cheaper? I have requested full details of the tourism spending from the council to inform these questions.

Whoever takes on the running of Birdman, there is ample opportunity to make more of the spectacle.

Now the jackpot prize has been won in consecutive years, the stakes must be raised to challenge competitors further. This will help ensure it does not become stagnant and continues to draw attention.

But regardless, we lose this publicity magnet at our peril.