PUBLIC spending watchdog Audit Scotland is to probe the state aid funding for Scotland’s biggest music festival following demands for full disclosure over the controversial backing it secured from ministers.
An investigation has been launched into the £150,000 grant given to T in the Park’s promoters to help pay for the event’s relocation to a new site earlier this year.
DF Concerts secured the backing despite posting a £6.5 million profit after a former SNP adviser, Jennifer Dempsie, helped set up a series of ministerial meetings for the company after being hired by DF Concerts. She scrapped plans to stand for election for the SNP after her involvement in the deal was disclosed by the Scottish Government amid claims of “cronyism.”
Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has suggested she was told the event, said to be worth £15 million to the economy, could be scaled back or even relocated to England unless it secured financial help.
DF Concerts chief executive Geoff Ellis, who personally met Ms Hyslop, has denied threatening to pull the plug on the event, which was forced to relocate from its long-time home at Balado, in Kinross-shire, due to health and safety concerns over an underground pipeline.
He has revealed that it had cost DF Concerts almost £3 million to move the event to the grounds of Strathallan Castle but has also insisted his company did not get preferential treatment after hiring Ms Dempsie as a project manager while it was trying to secure planning permission for the new site.
We will look at the relevant governance arrangements and how grant funding was applied in this caseAudit Scotland
The government has been under increasing pressure since the state aid for T in the Park was revealed by The Scotsman in July, weeks after the event had taken place. It has insisted details of what the money was spent on will not be made public. State aid funding rules mean it could not be used for infrastructure at the new site.
A spokeswoman for Audit Scotland said: “Our work helps ensure the public can have trust and confidence about how public money is used.
“Given the public interest and correspondence we’ve received, we’ve decided to review the funding provided to T in the Park as part of the audit of the Scottish Government’s consolidated accounts. We will look at the relevant governance arrangements and how grant funding was applied in this case. The outcome of our audit work will determine when we report our findings.”
Scottish Labour’s business manager James Kelly said: “It’s welcome news that Audit Scotland will now investigate this payment by the SNP government.
“From the very beginning ministers have been secretive and failed to answer even the most basic questions. Hopefully now Audit Scotland will get to the bottom of exactly what happened here.
“There is an urgent need for greater scrutiny of the SNP’s record in government, not just in relation to this payment but across the board.
“People across Scotland will find it difficult to understand why a festival headlined by millionaires needed £150,000 worth of taxpayers’ cash. It’s time for the government to come clean.”
The Conservative culture spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “I think the public will be relieved that Audit Scotland has taken this decision to investigate the controversial issues surrounding the award of £150,000 to T in the Park.
“Audit Scotland must now be allowed to pursue matters to provide the level of scrutiny which has been absent from the Scottish Government.”
Ms Hyslop has told MSPS that ministers will claw back some of the £150,000 - which was paid after this year’s festival took place - if T in the Park does not go ahead again at its new home Strathallan, in Perthshire.
But the promoters have since confirmed that the event would definitely be returning there next year - with reunited indie legends The Stone Roses confirmed as the first headliners for the 2016 event.
DF Concerts also issued a series of apologies for the organisation of this year’s festival, which was inundated with hundreds of complaints over traffic chaos, poor shuttle bus services, levels of congestion inside the arena and a lack of security at the campsite.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “DF Concerts have made clear the increased costs of the T in the Park, amounting to close to £3 million – and a reduced return – posed a threat to the longer term viability of the event itself as a multi-day, multi-stage event at Strathallan.
“The culture secretary has already given very extensive oral and written evidence to the education and culture committee and has also responded to a number of written and oral parliamentary questions, setting out the business case and the reasons for funding.
“In addition, the Scottish Government has published 600 pages of information relating to this issue under the Freedom of Information Act. We will of course be happy to help Audit Scotland in its work.”