NYE fireworks: Touts are ripping off the public – Boris needs to get a grip

Tickets to a £10 event are being re-sold for up to £200.

Tickets to a £10 event are being re-sold for up to £200

Messing with someone’s New Year’s arrangements can be hazardous, as anyone involved in the PR disaster that meant journalists and VIPs had to queue up to get in to the Dome on the Millennium New Year’s Eve can testify.

This year the Mayor of London Boris Johnson is risking a similar fiasco. His decision to introduce ticketing of the NYE fireworks has been done so poorly it risks turning the event into a ticket tout’s dream.

Last year half a million people turned up for the internationally famous display. This year tickets are being restricted to just 100,000; those without a ticket won’t be allowed into the main viewing areas. The official £10 tickets are sold out and some ticket resale sites are taking advantage of the unmet demand and advertising tickets at up to £200 each.

Boris Johnson cannot say he wasn’t warned about this. We raised the issue of touts on the day he announced the event would be ticketed. Three months later and his response to my most recent questions was simply that the hundreds of thousands who attended previously but won’t have a ticket this year should stay away and watch the display on the television.

This is a massive event for London and apart from the risk of ruining New Year’s Eve for Londoners and visitors turning up to the event, there is a serious risk to our reputation as a city and destination for tourists.

With only a few hours to go before the event, it isn’t not clear how high prices on re-sale sites will go but the tickets are not likely to get any cheaper. There was an amnesty where people could get a refund for tickets they couldn’t use but this ended over four weeks ago.

We asked the Mayor to look at whether the refund period could have been be reintroduced and whether the capacity of 100,000 is genuinely the maximum the central area can comfortably and safely hold but we got little in response.

Boris Johnson’s approach so far simply isn’t good enough. Whilst it’s not illegal to resell tickets online it is not clear how staff on the night will enforce the small print if hundreds of people turn up with tickets originally bought by someone else.

The message that you will need to be with the person who ordered the tickets in order to be allowed in to the fireworks has not got out clearly enough and risks leaving thousands of people with re-bought tickets they cannot use.

With the GLA website out of date and unclear about the status of resale tickets, people will be forgiven for the confusion surrounding the NYE arrangements. Posters at central London tube stations state simply that New Year is changing – you need to stop and read much smaller print to establish that it is changing to include ticketing.

What is evident is that the Mayor is out of touch with how ticketing for events works now. He doesn’t appreciate that it is now normal for tickets to be resold online, that it is viewed as a reliable and trusted method of buying authentic tickets.

Ebay touts

Tickets are being re-sold on Ebay for up to £200

Indeed it is not only touts but often members of the public with too many tickets who resell them. Knowing this, the Mayor should have had a clear strategy for dealing with resale sites. Instead the head in the sand approach means people buying these tickets run the risk of being turned away due to the small print terms and conditions.

The other key point is that this is a public event, paid for out of public funds: London taxpayers’ money. The £10 fee is only paying for the ticket administration and not for the event, nor the policing of the event. The Mayor hasn’t got a sponsor for the event and meanwhile the websites will be making large commission on selling tickets on.

Just as touts shouldn’t be ripping off the public on the night, resale websites should really be asking themselves whether money from a public event of this kind is really in the spirit of the event. That is why I have written to Ebay and Ticketmaster asking them to donate any commission they make to charity.

Tonight’s event itself, it is likely to be a very happy New Year for touts – at least until people are turned away by the staff at the entrance points. If you have come some distance to watch the fireworks then you may end up feeling that your evening will be ruined if you don’t buy tickets and pay way over the odds.

At the end of the day the London fireworks are a national, indeed international, event. There will be a lot of people outside the capital who will have no idea about the need for tickets until they arrive on the night.

The Mayor has argued that the ticketing is about public safety. However, the model appears not to take into account the safety of those turning up in good faith but without tickets.

Boris Johnson doesn’t have an answer as to how he will make sure revellers stay safe and have a good experience in London, even those without tickets. With only a few hours to go until the show kicks off London has to hope he gets a grip on things fast.

Fiona Twycross AM is a Labour Londonwide assembly member

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