Decision to cut Black History Month budget to £10,000, while allocating £100,000 to USA Day, sparks outrage
Hélène Mulholland, guardian.co.uk
Boris Johnson has slashed funding for a series of high-profile multicultural events, at the same time as ploughing £100,000 into a new venture to celebrate America.
Figures seen by the Guardian show that the London mayor cut funding for Black History Month, a series of events staged in October to celebrate black culture in the capital, from £132,000 to £10,000, though city hall insists the previous figure was £76,000. Africa Day's £100,000 grant from the London Development Agency was axed completely.
Funding for Jewish events was halved to £50,000, while a decision to cut funding for the St Patrick's Day celebration was roundly criticised last year.
Ken Livingstone, who supported multicultural events throughout his mayoralty, described the decision to cut funds for Black History Month as "outrageous". "These were all events that helped bring London together," he said.
Johnson was accused of "subsidising wealthy Americans" after the Guardian reported earlier this year that the development agency, the mayor's economic arm, had allocated £75,000 to USA Day. It emerged yesterday that the mayor has agreed to top this up with a further £25,000 from the Greater London Authority (GLA), bringing the total to £100,000.
Johnson has previously defended the move as part of a drive to attract more American tourists to the capital.
Other events to benefit from a cash boost include St George's Day which increased from £100,000 to £136,000, courtesy of the GLA.
Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, and recently appointed race commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the decision to cut Black History Month funding was symptomatic of Johnson's failure to "effectively re-engage" with London's black organisations.
Johnson previously came under fire for his decision to pull funding for the multicultural festival Rise, which received significant funding support under Livingstone's mayoralty.
Woolley said that Johnson's deputy mayor, Richard Barnes, held a meeting with representatives of the black community last year in which he had acknowledged there was "some serious catching up to do" in terms of GLA "re-engagement" with black and minority ethnic communities ahead of the 2012 Olympic games.
The Labour group on the London assembly recently called on Johnson to scrap USA Day and use the money to fund a new festival, Uprise, to fill the gap left by the decision to shelve Rise, which at its height attracted 100,000 Londoners.
A spokesman for the mayor insisted that the GLA "is not and cannot be a cash cow nor a financial lifeline".
"Events must have local and community support if they are to add value and make a proper contribution to community cohesion in London, and as has been seen with the celebrations for St Patrick's Day and a new Jewish cultural festival that is coming up, it is possible for communities themselves to create greatly enhanced events, but with reduced GLA funding. The GLA does not own Black History Month or Africa Day, but we would hope community groups would be able to develop programmes that mark these in a similar way."
...I know you can't really expect any better from Boris but- argh.