Manchester Pride CEO Mark Fletcher has refused to resign after a damning BBC investigation raised serious questions about the finances of the major LGBT+ event.
Fletcher appeared on BBC Radio Manchester and Gaydio on Wednesday (11 August) amid an uproar over Manchester Pride “cutting ties” with two local charities, the LGBT Foundation and George House Trust, citing a loss of revenue due to COVID-19.
As businesses in the city’s Gay Village came together to fill the funding gap, Manchester Pride was forced to account for a notable drop in charitable donations both before and after the pandemic.
According to BBC Radio Manchester, in 2018 the event donated nearly £150,000 to charity, around six per cent of its revenue. The following year Manchester Pride made a record-breaking £3.94 million – yet its charitable contributions were halved to three per cent, amounting to just £122,000.
That year saw the festival headlined by pop superstar Ariana Grande, whose reported performing fee of £350,000 cost nearly three times more than the event’s charitable contributions.
Overall, the organisation spent a total of £3.19 million that year – £1.6 million more than in 2018 – with £1.5 million on event production.
“Why did you spend nearly a million pounds on event production?” the BBC’s Anna Jameson asked Fletcher.
“You’re a charity – this should be handed to the people who need it. That is why people pay for their tickets for Manchester Pride, because they want it to go to local causes.
“Of course they want to have a good time, of course they’d love to see Ariana Grande, but she brings in the money herself. You don’t need to spent a million pounds more on event production and announce the following year that you can’t support local charities.”
Manchester Pride defends big name artists over charities
“It is very, very costly and expensive to deliver a festival,” he said. “We are not wasteful with our money – we ask our audiences what do you want, who are the performers you want to see to come and celebrate LGBT people’s lives with you.
“We then approach those performers and we are able to operate in a [flexible] way – because we’ve built strong relations with them in a way in which other commercial festivals don’t.”
He reiterated this to the BBC, explaining that Manchester Pride has expanded to include a number of free events and that A-list performers are needed to cover the hefty costs this incurs.
“Without the artists we’re bringing in we wouldn’t be able to generate these revenues. Every year when we do a survey, these are the artists we’re being asked to bring in,” he said.
“And when we’re looking at the amount spent on infrastructure, we have to make the event safe – that’s what it costs to deliver an event on this scale.”
Charities cast doubt on Manchester Pride claims
When quizzed on the drop in charitable donations Fletcher strongly denied cutting ties with the LGBT Foundation and George House Trust, both of which have been affiliated with Manchester Pride for more than 25 years.
“That’s not something we want to do and that’s not happening,” he insisted, claiming there was a “confusion” on social media. Manchester Pride is committed to championing and supporting both charities and the “vital” work they do, he said.
When specifically asked if the event would continue backing the LGBT Foundation’s safer sex scheme, Fletcher said: “We funded them this year and we want to continue funding them next year.”
This claim was immediately rebuffed by both charities who issued a joint statement online.
“Hearing that Manchester Pride will continue to fund LGBT Foundation and St George Trust on the radio earlier today contradicts the conversations we have had about our long-standing funding agreements which have been ended by them,” they said.
“We have not been given any indication of what future funding might look like or on what terms.”
The BBC noted that Manchester Pride has given LGBT Foundation a “one-off grant” of £10,000 this year, but this is not comparable to the support the event has offered in the past and does not represent a sustainable source of funding.
Manchester Pride CEO took £20k pay rise as donations dropped
The broadcaster also grilled the CEO on a £20,000 pay rise one Pride employee received in 2019, which brought their salary to £90,000. Fletcher was forced to admit that this employee was him, though he initially denied it was a pay rise.
“I didn’t receive a £20,000 pay rise in 2019, the way in which my pay structure was operated changed,” he began.
“It was a pay rise Mark, you were on a certain amount and you got £20,000 more at least, that’s a pay rise, you can rebrand it how you want,” Jameson said.
“I’m not trying to rebrand it,” Fletcher replied. “My salary is my salary. The trustees of Manchester Pride set the pay and reward policy for the whole team, including me, they do it to make sure we can meet our obligations as a charity.”
The pay rise was in line with guidance on charity senior executive pay from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, he said, and reflected “the value to the organisation of that role, the level of financial and operational risk and accountability it has.”
Nevertheless, the disclosure has raised serious questions about why the CEO of Manchester Pride was taking a pay rise in a year when the percentage of charitable donations had halved.
With calls mounting for the CEO and the board of trustees to step down, including a petition that has amassed hundreds of signatures, Fletcher refused to consider quitting.”That’s not likely to happen,” he said firmly.
PinkNews has reached out to Mark Fletcher and Manchester Pride for comment but received no immediate response.