Argyll and Bute Council has voted to plough more than £68,000 into supporting this year’s Cowal Highland Gathering - despite growing concern from councillors outside Cowal that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
Councillors voted in favour of the financial support, which forms the last instalment in a three-year service level agreement.” (SLA) with the Gathering’s organisers, at a meeting in Lochgilphead this week.
But the assistance wasn’t approved without dissent: several councillors pointed out that the cash backing of £68,205 - part of a total annual package of £100,000 which also includes ‘in kind’ support - had previously been used to pay a fee for the Gathering’s pipe band competition status as the last ‘major’ competition of the piping season, but that this ‘major’ status had been withdrawn for 2014.
Louise Glen-Lee (SNP, Oban North and Lorn) said there were many other Highland Games in the Argyll and Bute area which needed financial support, and which might question the award of such a large sum to Cowal when the event’s pipe band competition no longer had ‘major’ status.
“This is hotly-contested money,” she said. “All the Highland Games in Argyll are struggling to some extent and need that support.”
Depute leader Ellen Morton, however, said that fulfilling the third and final year of the SLA would give the Gathering’s organisers a chance to consider how to fill the gap left by the loss of the pipe band contest’s ‘major’ status.
Several councillors pointed out that other Highland Games in the area benefited from their proximity to Cowal, among them Bute’s Robert Macintyre, who said: “The Bute Highland Games is held on the Saturday prior to Cowal, and attracts five or six thousand visitors. It is sustainable and self-financing, and a lot of hard work goes into it.
“But the Cowal Highland Gathering, although I have never been able to attend, is world famous. All over Scotland it is renowned, and I say the recommendation should be agreed without delay.”
Council leader and Dunoon councillor Dick Walsh said that while he fully recognised the concerns expressed during the debate, the Cowal Gathering was about more than its pipe band contest - it also hosts the World Highland Dancing Championships, for example - and he said that approving the support this year would give the authority time to look closely at the level of support given to Cowal and other major events in future years.
The recommendation to approve the third year of the SLA and the award of £68,205 to the Gathering was backed by 23 votes to nine.