Mayflower 400 - What chance of success?

With the news last week that the Mayflower 400 project will be funded by up to £40,000 from our Council Tax, should tax payers be concerned about the effective use of those funds?

Why do I ask this question?

Firstly because I have spent the last 10 years working for the benefit of the town only to find myself up against a resistance to change that has lead to the economic decline the town now faces. I can no longer remain silent when I can see the same mistakes being made that have resulted in the demise of the TIC, the BID the traffic and parking strategy and other vital projects I have been involved in.

Secondly I remember the discussions I had with Peter Conisbee, the project leader for the Mayflower 400 project, trying unsuccessfully to get him to understand the importance of transparency, communication, and a strong marketing strategy during the BID project. As Chairman of the BID he failed totally to exploit the opportunity that the BID presented to the town and also refused to stand down and allow a new management team to put the BID back on course, as recommended by the then Town Council. Now, after refunding £60,000 in BID levy to the businesses of Dartmouth he is chasing £40,000 funding from the ordinary residents of the town in order to fund the Mayflower project. A project that will mainly benefit the businesses in the town.

What are my concerns?

  1. Peter, in my opinion never showed a real commitment to the delivery of the BID 5 year plan, despite the fact that businesses supported it by a majority of 2 to 1. In the end he buckled to the pressures applied by the opposing minority to close the BID.  Although when you consider how little of the plan the BID company had actually delivered the result of the vote on closure was not really surprising. Several BID’s have followed the same pattern but in most cases the management team is changed and the BID goes on to be successful.
  2. Peter, and Nigel Way before him, never really understood the importance of communicating with levy payers. On occasion complaining about their objections as a “waste of time” instead of listening and acting to address them. Despite pressure to establish a BID website it was never used effectively to keep levy payers informed about projects in progress or success stories ( although there were very few). Peter has just announced the development of a Dartmouth Mayflower 400 website more than 2 years after the project was launched. This is too little too late and I do not have confidence it will be used effectively.
  3. Peter has shown little knowledge of long term strategic marketing, which will be a vital skill for the Mayflower 400 group. The project list presented to the Council when asking for funding made little reference to the marketing programme that will back up the projects they have planned. This tells us that they will be spending very little on marketing. This marketing programme should have started long ago and will only be effective if it is a strong campaign, started early with a high digital profile. I see no evidence of that happening. A full programme of local events will be pointless unless we promote and market them effectively through digital media, the most effective tool available today, and we can’t now expect the TIC to play a major role in this as they no longer control the Discover Dartmouth website.
  4. Plymouth have made a major commitment to this project and will dominate the publicity and activities around the event. With a multi million pound budget and a CEO on a salary of £90,000 their profile will become very high in this area. Raising the profile of Dartmouth against that background will require specialist marketing skills that I believe we don’t have. Our geographic proximity to Plymouth may well be a disadvantage in this project because we risk being drowned out by the Plymouth Mayflower 400 marketing machine. They have made it very clear that they cannot help us, so it is up to us to make what we can of the event.
  5. The Mayflower project team needs to be much bigger, although it is hard to find out who is on the team, and needs the specialist skills in strategic marketing, project management, digital marketing etc. There are people with those skills in Dartmouth but they are put off joining these project teams when they see how acrimonious and confrontational they can become.

I remain passionate about Dartmouth, but I am also convinced it has far greater potential than it is reaching today. If we don’t recognise this and understand the need to change our approach then we will continue to lose the opportunities we have. Economic success will not change the town but enhance it, it has lost its vibrancy, the sense that we are living somewhere special has been tainted by the failure of the BID, something very few BID towns experience. If the failure of the BID doesn’t wake us up to our problems then it will have been a wasted effort by a lot of people.

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