The simmering dispute between Whitehall and Yorkshire over the Tour de France Grand Départ bubbled up again yesterday when sports minister Hugh Robertson described the lack of detailed costing of policing for the event as “pretty extraordinary”.
In an answer to a parliamentary question yesterday, Mr Robertson said that the £10 million the government has pledged toward the cost of hosting the Tour did not include policing costs, which were to be met from the £11 million that will be raised by Yorkshire.
He added: “I just say to my hon. Friend, as a gentle point of reference, that if there is controversy about this matter now—I do not know whether there is in Yorkshire—it is pretty extraordinary to have bid for an event without working out how the security is to be paid for.”
There is indeed controversy as police chiefs in Yorkshire examine the requirements for policing such a huge, sprawling event and wonder who is going to foot the bill.
The 2014 Tour de France will start in Leeds on Sunday July 5 with a stage that pops into the Yorkshire Dales and finishes in Harrogate. The following day riders set off from York and head into the Pennines for the hilliest of the three stages that ends in Sheffield. They then transfer to Cambridge for the start of stage three, which will finish in London on The Mall.
Budget "not adequate"
According to the Yorkshire Post, North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan has written to Gary Verity, chief executive of tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire to complain that a “lack of clarity” over policing costs has put North Yorkshire Police in a “very difficult position”. She said the force could have to find half a million pounds to cover the difference between the estimated and actual costs.
Sixty percent of the route of the first two days of the race passes through North Yorkshire, leaving the region’s force bearing the “largest part” of policing costs, Mrs Mulligan said.
She said: “I was very disappointed that in your bid to host this fantastic event, you did not seem to include realistic policing costs in your budgeting, and you did not consult North Yorkshire Police in your calculations for the bid.
“It has now fallen to us to pick up that cost. The initial lack of clarity from yourselves when bidding for this event has left us in a very difficult position as the public sector is under enormous pressure at the moment, with North Yorkshire being no different.”
Mrs Mulligan described the original bid’s budget as “not adequate for the actual cost”.
She told the BBC: “We are the smallest force and we've got the highest bill so it's really important that I do everything that I can to try and secure as much funding as I can to make this a fantastic event.
"We have a bill of at least £500,000, possibly more, up to £1m, and that's a very significant amount for a small police force like North Yorkshire."
TDF 2014 Ltd: "too early to be concerned"
Sir Rodney Walker, chair of the event co-ordinator TDF 2014 Ltd said the cost of policing was “one of the issues we know we still have to address”.
He said: "There is a line in the budget for policing costs. We will continue to work closely with the police to ensure the Grand Départ is successful and Tdf2014 Ltd are already planning to meet the police commissioners to discuss in greater detail the requirements and costings.
“It is far too early to be concerned about this but it is an issue about which I am aware. Within the remit I have from Government there is no prospect of me being able to make any contribution from the £10m I have been given.”
Whitehall versus Yorkshire
Hugh Robertson’s swipe at the Yorkshire bid group is more evidence that Whitehall is not happy about the Grand Départ being in Yorkshire. The government and British Cycling backed the rival bid from Edinburgh, and there was considerable surprise when Yorkshire’s bid won.
In heavily redacted documents obtained by the Yorkshire Post last month UK Sport described Yorkshire’s hosting of the Grand Départ as a “very high risk project,” with “significant financial and logistical challenges.”
UK Sport told the government in March that no public funding should be provided, expressing doubts regarding the “financial and logistical viability of the plans,” as well as having “limited confidence in Welcome to Yorkshire’s leadership of the event.”
It was suggested that Visit England would attempt to rebrand the event as the England Grand Départ, as the route contains a stage from Cambridge to London. That leg is believed to have been included at the request of organiser ASO which wanted a finish closer to the Channel ports to avoid a lengthy transfer back to France.
Preparations for the Cambridge to London leg appear to be going smoothly and without controversy. The most exciting Tour-related news to have emerged from the region recently is the suggestion by South Cambridgeshire MP Andrew Lansley that Prince George of Cambridge should be given a racing bike to mark the Tour visit to the city.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.