Councillor Ellis Turrell told a Wolverhampton Council scrutiny board meeting that some of the Relight Festival events only sold around one per cent of tickets at full price with many being given out for free like “confetti”.
Board members agreed to hold an inquiry into the authority’s cultural events programme to look at the cost of hosting festivals and what impact they have on the city’s economy.
It comes as the city bids to be named as the UK's next city of culture.
The Relight Festival took place in a big top in West Park from August 20 to September 5 featuring music, comedy, sport, film and family events.
Shows such as the headline set from comedian Bill Bailey drew the crowds and rave reviews.
But Councillor Turrell said figures showed some events at Relight were “barely 10 per cent full”.
He said: “We’ve recently had the Relight Festival which to my mind can only be described as a flop.
“Just have a look at some of the ticket sales where the council has basically given away tickets like confetti because they couldn’t sell them. They were chucking them out.
“One event, part of the Relight Festival – only one per cent of tickets were sold at the standard price. In terms of capacity, some of these events were barely 10 per cent full.
“I struggle to see how the council made any money out of these programmes. We also have the Pride Festival that was cancelled at short notice.
“So I’m asking for an inquiry into the council’s overall cultural events programme. You’ve got the Relight Festival, the Literary Festival, Pride.
“I think we ought to see a line by line breakdown of the costs involved in all of these festivals.
“How much it has cost to put them on, how much were the performers’ fees? It can only be described as loss-making really.
“If the council wants to be an events city then that’s great. But what evidence is there to actually show there is a demand for that?
“We’re 20 minutes on the train to Birmingham, so where is the demand, where is the evidence? I’m not seeing it from ticket sales figures.
“And what effect have these events had on the local economy? Are people actually coming into the city to go to these festivals, are they staying to spend money here? I don’t think they are.”
Councillor Phil Bateman said he agreed scrutiny should look at these issues but added he was “irked” by some of Councillor Turrell’s comments.
He said: “After many years here in Wolverhampton, all we’ve ever heard is our support for Birmingham. It’s right and proper we should put stuff on ourselves for our own people.
“I think the issue revolves around the relevance and the quality. I don’t think we should shy away from that. Good shows and bad shows take place in the most salubrious of places.
“Let’s not constrain Wolverhampton’s ambition. We’re not just there to support Birmingham and we’re here to look after our own citizens and make Wolverhampton a better place. Let’s not decry ourselves.”
Councillor Val Evans added the Pride Festival – due to take place on September 4 – is being rescheduled because headline act, singer Nadine Coyle, was not going to be allowed back to England in time from Ireland because of Covid restrictions.
She added some of the tickets given out for free were to hospital workers.