Boris Johnson has admitted that no official attendance figures are kept for the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display despite citing ever growing crowds as the reason for introducing paid tickets.
The event has traditionally been free but in September Mr Johnson said London’s emergency services and transport providers had expressed concerns about public safety after crowds grew to around 500,000 last year.
Citing those concerns, the Mayor approved the introduction of paid-for ticketing for this year’s display, a move which promoted cross-party criticism after it was announced just 100,000 £10 tickets would be available.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly insisted that the money raised from ticketing would only be sufficient to cover costs and would not make a profit for City Hall.
In September the Mayor’s office said: “Since it was first staged at the London Eye on the South Bank in 2003, the numbers of people heading to see the acclaimed pyrotechnic and lighting display have mushroomed from an estimated 100,000 people in its first year to more than 400,000 in 2012.
“Last year around half a million people are estimated to have headed to see the display, putting enormous strain on transport and safety infrastructure.”
Mr Johnson subsequently told London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon that “the event has experienced a consistent increase in numbers leading to the estimated 500,000 people attempting to see the fireworks in 2013.”
However, answering a number of follow-up questions tabled by Ms Pidgeon, the Mayor has now admitted that “estimated attendance figures for each year are not available.”
In his answer Mr Johnson insists “all agencies are in agreement that year on year the popularity of the event has ensured that crowd numbers have increased significantly from 2003.”
City Hall routinely publishes details of major decisions taken by the Mayor, including briefing documents drawn up by officials, on its website.
However papers relating to the fireworks event and the decision to introduce ticketing have yet to be released.
In response to Ms Pidgeon’s questions the Mayor says some information, including “details of the procurement for commercial services and sponsorship of the NYE’s events 2014, 2015 and 2016” has been exempted from publication as its release could “prejudice the commercial interests of the GLA”.
However he confirms details not deemed confidential will be published in early January.
The delay in publishing the documents, and City Hall’s failure to announce a sponsorship deal, suggests negotiations with potential sponsors may still be ongoing.
In 2013 the Mayor considered cancelling the event after a major sponsor withdrew, creating a £500,000 black hole in its finances.
Update: Following publication of this article, the Mayor’s office have confirmed that negotiations to secure a sponsor were unsuccessful but stressed that the event was fully funded by City Hall and would proceed without a commercial partner.
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: “There is a core budget to deliver this spectacular event enjoyed by millions of people around the world and so even though we have not secured sponsorship this year the event is going ahead as planned.
“Sponsorship would allow us to add to the overall experience of the event but it does not pay for any of the essential elements of the evening. We will of course be seeking to secure sponsorship for this high profile internationally acclaimed show in future years.”