THE man behind Scotland’s biggest music festival has denied threatening to scale back the event or move it outside the country in an effort to win public funding to help pay for a move to a new site.
Geoff Ellis, chief executive of DF Concerts, the firm at the centre of the T in the Park cronyism row, defended asking the Scottish Government for financial help, revealing the relocation had cost his company almost £3 million.
Was the meeting only had because Jennifer Dempsie set it up? No. That’s completely ridiculous and an insult to the intelligence of Fiona HyslopGeoff Ellis
But Mr Ellis is adamant that the three-day event is not in danger of being relocated over the Border. Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has previously suggested to MSPS that she agreed to an 11th-hour grant of £150,000 to help prevent the event moving out of the country.
The promoter insisted it would have been “crass” for him to make threats about pulling the plug on the 21-year-old event, which is said to be worth more than £15m to the country’s economy.
Ms Hyslop has revealed 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 Strathallan, in Perthshire.
But Mr Ellis insisted he had no intention of handing back the state aid grant the event was given after a series of ministerial meetings brokered by former SNP aide Jennifer Dempsie.
And he said his company did not get preferential treatment after hiring the communications consultant as a project manager while it was trying to secure planning permission for the festival’s new home.
The government has been under increasing pressure since the state aid for T in the Park was revealed by The Scotsman.
There was scepticism from MSPs about the prospect of T in the Park moving to England when Ms Hyslop gave evidence to Holyrood’s culture committee last month.
She said that a “seven-figure amount” had been required by DF Concerts due to a host of unanticipated costs.
She said: “Shareholders of the company were giving them an indication that it would be preferable for them to move, if there was not profitability for the event itself, from the multi-day, multi-stage festival which brings the economic benefit to rural Perthshire, to a single-day, single-stage event possibly in other cities like Glasgow as they have been doing recently. Or to move the festival itself away from Scotland.”
Last week it emerged DF Concerts secured the funding despite the government being aware it had made pre-tax profits of £6.2m last year.
Mr Ellis said: “I told the minister what was open to us. We could have had a single-stage event on multiple nights, which we would have had to risk far less money on, but the returns would have been broadly similar.
“But we don’t want to do that.”
Mr Ellis said part of the reason he had hired Ms Dempsie was for her “contacts book” and revealed he had attended an SNP conference at the SECC in Glasgow.
He added: “Did I get priority access to Fiona Hyslop? I don’t think so. Fiona knows who I am... The fact that she (Dempsie) set up the meeting, so what?
“Obviously if she hadn’t set up the meeting people couldn’t have made the accusation of cronyism - I get that - but it’s a bit of cheap shot.
“But was the meeting only had because Jennifer set it up? No. That’s completely ridiculous and an insult to the intelligence of Fiona Hyslop.”
Scottish Conservative culture spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith said: “I don’t think people could ever take seriously the idea that this Scottish Government grant would ever have been the difference between T in the Park leaving Scotland or not.”
James Kelly, Labour’s parliamentary business manager, said: “Fiona Hyslop has some real questions to answer here.
“We know that no one in her office read the key economic report about the deal and now one of her central claims about the festival has been rubbished by the festival boss himself.
“T in the Park is an iconic Scottish event; the idea of it being pulled out of the country seems absolutely ludicrous.
“Fiona Hyslop should return to the culture committee to clear up these questions. Why is she saying one thing and the festival boss another?”
A spokeswoman for DF Concerts today said it would be wrong to suggest Mr Ellis had contradicted Ms Hyslop in a newspaper interview.
She added: “He outlined the huge financial costs incurred in moving T in the Park and operating at its new site to the minister, and when she asked what that could mean for the event’s future, he said that it could mean the event restructuring to single day concerts elsewhere.
“So she’s quite right in thinking that this could mean elsewhere in Scotland or even outwith Scotland.”