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Hurried and flawed: Report probes Cambridge Live failure




The set up of Cambridge Live was too hurried, flawed and incomplete but its demise was not inevitable, an independent review has found.

Cambridge Corn Exchange was run by Cambridge Live and is now back under council control. Picture: Keith Heppell. (18477122)
Cambridge Corn Exchange was run by Cambridge Live and is now back under council control. Picture: Keith Heppell. (18477122)

The review was commissioned by Cambridge City Council to highlight areas where lessons could be learned after the failure of the events and marketing organisation.

The report was written by an independent consultant who reviewed the history of Cambridge Live, from its set-up and launch by the council in October 2014, through to December 2018 when the council decided to bring Cambridge Live back under its direct control. By April of this year, Cambridge Live was back as a city council department.

The report concludes that both the council and Cambridge Live could have acted differently at key points in time in ways that might have increased the chances of the independent trust developing into a successful and viable entity for the long-term.

The council has committed to learn from the experience.

“The structure, funding and planning involved in setting up Cambridge Live was too hurried and so flawed and incomplete. Within these arrangements are the roots of Cambridge Live’s commercial failure,” wrote Mark Taylor on behalf of the East of England Local Government Association, in his review.

He continued: “However, the demise was not inevitable. With the right people, culture and management, Cambridge Live could have steered its way through what would have been some choppy walkers.

“But the way Cambridge Live was run not only did not overcome the weaknesses from the outset, but contributed to its rapid decline and almost to the loss of an outstanding service.”

Mr Taylor spoke to a number of people from the city council, Cambridge Live and externally. He was clear to point out that no one factor and no one organisation was responsible for the failure.

Among his findings was that the rationale behind the decision to create Cambridge Live was not completely clear.

He wrote more time should have been devoted to “consultation, planning, finances, staff structure and recruitment, and a shadow organisation and board established in good time, so that teething problems and transitional issues were identified and addressed prior to launch”.

He questioned whether the range of services run by Cambridge Live were “synergistic and sensible” given that the new organisation was stripped of the council’s support services.

“A major reason for failure was the agreement setting up Cambridge Live – in particular the reoccuring reduction in the city council annual investment by over £60,000 each year, beginning in year one.”

Mr Taylor said the financial agreement between the two organisations was “flawed” and Cambridge Live never produced a fully costed business plan.

He also pointed to the “poor decision” for Cambridge Live to
take on the e-Luminate festival which, while not the cause of the demise, “the costs incurred in dealing with
its collapse served to make the situation worse”.

There were also consequences and costs relating to the incident at the fireworks event in 2015, which led to a woman having her leg amputated after she was crushed by a lorry during preparations for the event.

The report will be discussed by the council’s environment and community scrutiny committee on Thursday, October 2.

Cllr Anna Smith, executive councillor for communities, said: “This is a very useful report and it will help us all understand the lessons that can be learned, something that we are all keen to do.

“This report is absolutely not about apportioning blame to any individuals but about reflecting more widely on what was done well and what could have been done differently.

“I saw for myself the swift and decisive action officers took both to try to keep Cambridge Live afloat and then to save the cultural programme by bringing the organisation back in house. I’m glad to see the report highlights this and I’d really like to thank the former trustees who saw the handover through. However, there are also clearly things that were not as effective, and things that could be done better in the future. The council is committed to learning and applying these lessons learnt.”

Read more:

Cambridge Live to come back under council control

Cambridge City Council chief executive was ‘not aware of significant issues’ with Cambridge Live



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