Manchester Pride 2006 raises one of the lowest-ever amounts for good causes

Pride is not a charity event anymore says taxman

It seems this is being kept oh-so-quiet in the press and online. I can see nothing about it on the Operation Fundraiser, George House Trust or Manchester Pride websites.

It only goes to show how little respect these organisations have for the public and how unimportant they think the charity side of things is.

The Manchester Evening News — a paper that is only too quick to publish untrue hype about Pride — has no story about this on its website either.

But the information has been sneaked out in a ‘Manchester Pride Bulletin’ leaflet that one of my friends picked up in the gay village.

Isn’t it funny how the organisers are so keen to spend huge amounts of money attacting visitors from across the UK and the world and yet they restrict this news to only those local people who can pick up a leaflet on Canal Street?

For those of you who didn’t see a copy. Here are all four pages (I have removed the photos for copyright reasons).

The bad news is, it looks as if just £70,000 will go to good causes in 2006. If you take into account inflation, this is the lowest amount for many years:

2006: £70,000 (pay event)
2005: £120,772 (pay event)
2004: £129,426 (pay event)
2003: £127,690 (pay event)
2002: £65,000 (free event)
2001: £70,000 or £100,000 – reports vary (free event)
2000: £105,000 (free event)
1999: zero raised (the first year with the ‘pledgeband’/wristband)

Manchester’s August Bank Holiday event started off as a way to raise money for HIV and AIDS causes. But, when the current organisers seized control in 2003, expenses rocketed. Costs were £106,000 in 2002, but jumped to an incredible £556,000 the following year, 2003.

2003 was also the year they made it a pay event once again…

Currently there are two organisations involved. Operation Fundraiser is a group of charities. It sells the tickets, collects money in buckets and then hands over 50% of all that money to Manchester Pride, which runs the event. Operation Fundraiser then spends some of the remaining 50% on its own running costs and distributes whatever’s left to various charities.

Manchester Pride (it was called Europride in 2003) is not a charity. In 2003, it didn’t even have its own accounts. It was all part of Marketing Manchester, which describes itself as ‘the tourist board’. If you email Manchester Pride, you are likely to get a reply from Marketing Manchester.

Manchester City Council boasts that Pride brings in £20 million worth of business to the city each year.

This all gives a clue to what the real priorities have been since 2003: promoting Manchester and raising millions for big business, while getting the gay community to finance the costs. The good names of the charities are used to lever as much money out of the public as possible and create a ‘feel-good’ factor.

But, whereas the event used to be all about money for charity, for several years it has seemed as if there was a ‘glass ceiling’ on the ‘profit’ that was left for good causes. People say that the charity aspect of Pride has been forgotten and, increasingly, has become too small a part.

Now it seems that HM Revenue and Customs agrees… The taxman has decided that Pride 2004, 2005 and 2006 do not qualify as charity fundraising events, because of the way they were organised. So now Operation Fundraiser must find £56,000 out of this year’s income to pay past VAT. They are hoping to challenge the decision.

In the ‘Bulletin’ Manchester Pride says:

‘The 2003 Pride event was given VAT exempt status, however HMRC have taken a different view for 2004 despite the basic arrangements not changing.’

But it seems to me that ‘basic arrangements’ did change between 2003 and 2004…

In 2003, before the event, Operation Fundraiser agreed to hand over a huge £200,000 lump sum to Europride 2003 to cover the running costs (at the previous year’s Pride they had said that 100% of Operation Fundraiser cash would go to good causes). Whereas, in 2004 and each year since, Operation Fundraiser has handed over 50% of the money it collected through ticket sales and from collection buckets (50% has been less than that £200,000 in 2003).

In an email dated 9 August 2004, the Organiser of Manchester Pride told me:

‘Manchester Pride has only just been running for one year as a company.’

Information from Companies House shows that the company Europride 2003 Limited existed from February 2003 and changed its name to Manchester Pride on 29 April 2004.

Leaving aside the VAT issue… Despite the increased entry fees this year and new charges for any non-profit groups that wanted to walk in the Saturday parade (charges which, disgracefully, even applied to HIV charities) it seems, once again, the ‘profit’ left was only around £120,000.

The excuses in the Bulletin leaflet are pathetic. They say rain affected ticket sales. But it has often rained, especially on the Saturday parade. In the past I have commented on that in my online Journal.

There is a vague web of spin, lies and contradictory information surrounding Pride. The Manchester Evening News tells us that there is a ‘50% increase’ in ticket sales one year but, strangely, twelve months later they write that last year was actually the same as the one before it. Sometimes there are wildly conflicting figures about the same year from one article or press release to the next.

Then there are the ever-rising costs… Not just this year, but every year since 2003. For example, in 2004, Operation Fundraiser spent £79,982 on its own running costs. That was some £20,000 more than in 2003 (when its costs were £59,520). A 33% increase in costs in just one year… Why was that?

Part of running any successful business is keeping a lid on outgoings. While the organisers are quick to point to extra security costs, Operation Fundraiser doesn’t pay those, Manchester Pride does. Oh and, despite the fact that Pride raises £20m for businesses in the City, Manchester City Council charges the event for street cleaning, the Police charge for Policing… Everyone must have their pound of flesh these days.

You’ll see from the ‘production costs’ graph that Manchester Pride’s ‘entertainment costs’ appear to have increased by 200% in 2006.

So, some of your ticket money is now in the bank accounts of various z-list celebrities. While the massive funding cut for LGF (Lesbian and Gay Foundation) could mean we face less free condoms available in the bars and clubs (that is assuming the appeal to HM Revenue and Customs is unsuccessful).

This is just what we need… These days many gay men won’t even use a condom when they are freely available on a bar in front of them. How many are going to use them if they have to get it together to go and buy condoms from the chemists?

In previous years only around 30-35% of the ticket price went to good causes. This year the percentage will be much lower. Let’s do some sums…

Even if they only sold 30,000 tickets at £10 – £15 each, and if we completely forget about collection bucket money, that is income of somewhere between £300,000 and £450,000 from tickets alone.

With just £70,000 reaching good causes this year, that figure represents between 16% and 24% of ticket income. If collection bucket money is added into the calculation, then the percentage of the income given by the public and going to good causes this year will be even lower.

When the public bought a £22 ticket for the UniChallenge club event during Pride 2006 and they saw that £1 from that ticket went to Operation Fundraiser, I wonder how many of them thought that, after all the Pride costs and VAT, maybe only 16p from that £22 was distributed to good causes in the end?

Of course, if we had official figures for how many tickets are sold each year, their income from tickets, how much they get from collection bucket money and they gave us information such as where exactly bucket money is in their calculations, then we could work out accurate percentages. But, for some reason, the organisers ignore letters that ask for this information and prefer to publish vague and misleading leaflets that raise more questions than they answer. I wonder why…?

So, as usual, the bars and clubs have made their money, the City Council and businesses are all stuffed with cash. The lame-brains who run this event and the charities all still have their jobs. It’s only the people who would benefit from the charity money by getting a service or some free condoms who will suffer. Just like it was back in 1999.

So let’s not allow them to put the blame on HM Revenue and Customs. After all, the Revenue is just thinking what we’re thinking: Manchester Pride is not really about charity fundraising anymore. The fundraising part is elastic and disposable — the money that doesn’t have to be paid if push comes to shove.

Heaven forbid that the businesses or Manchester City Council might rally round and offer to pay this VAT bill.

A new arts festival starts in Manchester from 2007. The City Council is giving £2m — 40% of the total amount needed to fund it. It’s hoped the festival will bring £32m of business to the city. Compare that to the £40,000 grant that Manchester City Council gave to Europride 2003. As mentioned, Pride brings in about £20m of business to the city…

The real blame lies with the manipulative people who have corrupted what used to be a charity event. Turning it into something they can use to further their own careers and use to make money for themselves and their business chums. Nothing more than a cynical marketing opportunity.

There are too many people on this gravy train. Manchester City Council should be excluded from the organising of Pride once again, why the hell is the tourist board involved? And we need to take a serious look at whether some of the people who run the charities are up to the job of handling this money.

Manchester’s gay community needs to grab hold of Pride by the scruff of the neck and reinvent it, as it did back in 1999 — the year when nothing was raised for good causes. Am I hopeful of this happening? Not really, because it seems to me there is much less of a community than there was seven years ago.

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