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Manchester Pride to launch review after row over funding cuts

Posted at Aug 13, 2021

One of Britain’s biggest Pride events has vowed to conduct a “transparent review” of its purpose and finances after being criticised for ending its funding of two community charities while giving its chief executive a £20,000 pay rise.

There was widespread outrage among Manchester’s LGBT community last week when it emerged that Manchester Pride was cutting regular funding for a condom distribution scheme it had supported for 27 years, blaming a drop in income caused by the pandemic.

It also cut financial support for George House Trust, which supports people living with HIV and Aids, on the basis that it also helps straight people.

The Safer-Sex Pack project, run by the LGBT Foundation, distributes 90,000 condoms and lubricants annually, with Manchester Pride meeting the £40,000 annual cost. Set up in 1994, it has been the longest-running free service in the world.

Manchester Pride has come under increasing criticism in recent years after moving its main stage away from Canal Street, the heart of the city’s Gay Village, and charging for entry.

Weekend passes now cost £84.50, which buys access to the live arena, headlined this year by Sigala and Zara Larsson. Just to enter the Gay Village this bank holiday weekend costs £17.50 a day.

The parade, one of the remaining free events, has been cancelled because organisers said they could not deliver it within Covid guidelines.

Questioned on Radio Manchester this week, the chief executive, Mark Fletcher, admitted he had received a £20,000 pay rise over the past two years, taking his salary to between £90,000 and £100,000.

Asked why the organisation – a registered charity – had reduced its charitable givings despite revenues rising pre-pandemic, Fletcher said its trustees had taken the decision “to restructure the way that our funding is distributed”.

Emma Peate, who used to help pack the condoms in the 1990s and ran Operation Fundraiser, which became Manchester Pride, expressed her dismay at the funding cuts.

“Lots of people are absolutely fuming. I’m more disappointed that Manchester Pride has lost its way so much,” she said. “There’s nobody sitting on that board of trustees who is saying ‘why are we giving Mark Fletcher a 20 grand pay rise?’ when it can’t apparently afford what it was set up to do, which was to raise money for the two charities who created what became Pride. How can they call it Pride now? Just call it a Big Gay Festival.”

In 2018 the organisation donated nearly £150,000 to charity, about 6% of its revenue. Despite bringing in a record-breaking £3.94m the following year, when Ariana Grande headlined, its charitable contribution was £121,135, 3% of its revenue. That year the charity spent almost £586,000 on artist fees and expenses – more than double the £232,000 spent in 2018.

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on Fletcher to resign. He did not respond to an interview request on Friday, but earlier in the week he told Radio Manchester “I am committed to the job”.

A crisis meeting was held on Thursday between Manchester Pride, the LGBT Foundation, George House Trust and Manchester city council. On Friday the council said Manchester Pride had agreed to conduct “a transparent review during autumn taking views from a wide-reaching range of stakeholders and the community about the future direction of the festival.”

The LGBT Foundation chief executive, Paul Martin, and the chief executive of George House Trust, Darren Knight, said: “Although our current funding partnerships are ending, we’re grateful Manchester Pride has pledged to help fund our vital community services in the future.

“The announcement of a review is welcome, but we believe that Pride must go further. There is a clear message coming from our community that real change is needed so this must be a truly radical review into Manchester Pride’s format and purpose.”

Paul Wheeler, the chair of trustees of the board for Manchester Pride, said: “We are keen to find ways to continue supporting the vital work of the LGBT Foundation and George House Trust. We are equally committed to ensuring everyone has a say in shaping Manchester Pride.”

A crowdfunder organised by businesses in the Gay Village has raised more than £37,500 to help the two charities continue their work.