Brian Ferguson: Questions over T in the Park funds

Revellers at T in the Park, Strathallan Castle. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Revellers at T in the Park, Strathallan Castle. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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DIFFICULT questions over T in the Park’s funding need to be answered, writes Brian Ferguson

There appears little to connect the Hebridean island of Mull and the Strathallan Estate in Perthshire. But on the cultural map of Scotland the two locations were burning bright in the past few days – and not for the best of reasons.

As two of Mull’s most experienced cultural figureheads were losing their jobs in the face of cash cutbacks, it emerged T in the Park received a secret hand-out of public money.

As if T in the Park wasn’t facing enough questions over its future, there is what looks suspiciously like a bail-out, agreed just days before the event took place at its controversial new home.

Campaigners who spent the best part of a year trying to block the event at Strathallan are not the only ones wondering when discussions about direct government funding took place and why no official announcement was made. Did the Scottish Government agree to the money as compensation for a move forced upon promoters DF Concerts by the Health and Safety Executive over its long-running Balado site?

Did ministers sanction the £150,000 deal on condition of confidentiality during a planning process which triggered more than 1,600 objections.

How loud were alarm bells ringing in the government at the prospect of T in the Park’s cancellation after two decades, which was raised by DF boss Geoff Ellis?

And what part did poor ticket sales play in the plea for financial help from Scotland’s biggest concert promoter?

If there was no public funding available to drag a long-established cultural institution like The Arches back from the abyss, it does seem odd that emergency support can be secured for T in the Park at a few weeks’ notice.

Other arts organisations which have suffered funding cuts recently include the Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres in Edinburgh. Scottish Youth Theatre lost its public backing completely last year until an embarrassing u-turn engineered by Alex Salmond, while other festivals have lost the safety net of regular funding.

Ironically, T in the Park’s cash injection was greater than the level of savings Mull’s arts trust has blamed for the shake-up, that critics claim, has forced out long-serving artistic directors Gordon MacLean and Alasdair McCrone.

Of course, the union that triggered the Mull furore claims the island’s arts scene has never been better supported financially and has blamed boardroom mismanagement for the current crisis.

But the Comar arts trust is adamant job losses were “unavoidable” because its core funding is down by more than £100,000.

The question these two entirely connected cases raise is this. Is there one set of rules for funding some arts organisations and promoters – and another one entirely for certain others?