WASTEFUL: Liberal Councillor Brad Luke says the council has wasted ratepayers money on a National Geographic ‘smart cities program’ he said was a ‘glorified advertorial’. PICTURE: Simone De Peak
NEWCASTLE Council has defended spending $130,000 on an advertising campaign with National Geographic Traveler magazine, despite not taking part in a London “smart cities forum” billed as one of the key opportunities in the program.
Liberal councillor Brad Luke says participation in the News Corporation-owned National Geographic Traveler magazine program is “simply a glorified advertorial”.
“The value we’ve gotten out of this is virtually nothing,” Cr Luke told the Newcastle Herald.
“We’re running around trying to claim we’ve been selected for this thing, when in fact you’ve spent … ratepayers money on an advertisement.”
The Herald has previously reported that the council’s controversial participation in the program included a feature in the magazine as well as online articles.
The council has defended its participation, saying the program meant Newcastle “is now being marketed globally to National Geographic Traveler’s 9.31 million-strong audience, National Geographic’s 28 million monthly website visitors and 12.1 million social media subscribers”.
“We featured in a special edition of the travel magazine earlier this year and National Geographic is also featuring articles about Newcastle on a smart cities hub on its website,” a spokesman for the council said.
But a key plank of the smart cities program sell – the “opportunity to have a city delegate participate in the Smartest World Cities forum to be hosted by National Geographic at the Word Travel Market international event in London” – never eventuated.
The prospectus provided to the council by the magazine states participating cities “receive an invitation to participate” in the London forum.
At the time the council said National Geographic would cover the cost of one attendee, but the forum would include “additional costs” estimated at “upwards of $10,000”.
The total cost of participating in the program was listed as $169,000, but the council has since clarified that the program cost $162,000, with council paying 80 per cent of the cost and the University of Newcastle paying the other 20 per cent.
But Cr Luke, who, together with other Liberal councillors voted against taking part in the program, says he believes it’s because the council was never invited.
“It’s important to note that at the time this went through the council we were we’d be part of this great world-expo of smart cities, it turns out that in actual fact we weren’t invited,” Cr Luke said.
Asked about this, the council spokesman did not directly answer the question, saying only that the trip “would have incurred additional costs above the participation fee” and that the council did not attend.
Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, a key supporter of the council’s participation in the program, and National Geographic magazine have both been contacted for comment.
Council said participating in the program “will help attract investment and create employment, and comes a few months after the $18 million funding announcement for the Hunter Innovation Project”.
“Staff from both council and the University of Newcastle have been involved in planning and delivering material for digital platforms as part of the project, including a series of three-minute videos that promote Newcastle as a city of opportunity,” the spokesman said.
“The first of 14 videos was released on 22 February and reached 400,000 people via social media.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the council spent $169,000 on the National Geographic Smart Cities program. The council in fact spent $130,000. The incorrect figure was taken from council documents.
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