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‘Poor internal management’ led to Cambridge Live trust collapse, report finds

Poor internal management was at the heart of the demise of Cambridge Live trust, an independent review concluded.

A report into the event organisation’s collapse described how it was “flawed” from its inception but the problems were then compounded when the project was poorly managed.

The charity, which specialised in cultural services, ran the Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge Folk Festival and the Big Weekend.

When it ran into financial problems late last year, Cambridge City Council stepped in with a £750,000 bailout and took back control of its events programme.

Although Cambridge Live’s failure could have been avoided, the report found, the council and councillors monitored the organisation as well as the situation allowed.

Responding to a question on how or why hostility referred to in the report between council and Cambridge Live had developed, Antoinette Jackson, chief executive of the council, told the environment and community scrutiny committee on Thursday (October 3): “The only thing I would add was that it was about the two organisations establishing different ways of working.

“Cambridge Live wanted their identity as an arm’s-length organisation – we were sort of feeling our way – both organisations – in sort of recalibrating those relationships.

“I was not aware of significant issues that made me concerned at the time that we were going off at very different directions. But it is something that comes through the report that it was a different relationship and both parties needed to get used to that.”

The council’s strategic director, Suzanne Hemingway, told the committee she accepts the review’s finding that “there were difficult relationships”.

Cambridge Corn Exchange is back under city council control. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge Corn Exchange is back under city council control. Picture: Keith Heppell

The senior officer, who did not work with the council when Cambridge Live was set up, added: “I think that officers in both organisations were for the most part working hard to make the partnership work – there may be lessons for the council about being more explicit in making sure that it’s clear what the boundaries of those relationships are, but I think it’s always going to be difficult journey, and the learning from other arm’s-length organisations is that it is quite difficult to get those relationships right in the early years.

“There are lessons for the council to take if it is ever to set up arm’s-length arrangements in the future.

“The report comes in the context of there being pressures on a number of other trusts in the wider sector – it’s not an easy business to be in.”

She said: “The people that were involved in Cambridge Live were involved in what is quite a difficult business, and the council taking those services back will have to recognise those ongoing pressures.”

  • An earlier version of this article failed to make clear that the chief executive of the council was responding specifically to a question about the relationship between staff at the city council and Cambridge Live, rather than just the state of the organisation itself. We are sorry for the confusion.

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