SNP in ‘cronyism’ row over T in the Park grant

Fiona Hyslop signed off an "ad hoc state aid" package for T in the Park. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Fiona Hyslop signed off an "ad hoc state aid" package for T in the Park. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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MINISTERS are under pressure to state why the Scottish Government agreed to pay a £150,000 grant to the T in the Park festival after it emerged that a former SNP adviser helped secure the taxpayer-funded award.

The SNP faced a “cronyism” row after it was reported that Jennifer Dempsie, a former special adviser to Alex Salmond, was involved in arranging the funding package for the festival.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop

Dempsie, a project manager for promoters DF Concerts, brokered the initial meeting between T in the Park and DF Concerts boss Geoff Ellis and culture secretary Fiona Hyslop to discuss the funding.

The talks on 28 May led to the minister signing off an “ad hoc state aid” package for the festival on 2 July, eight days before it began.

Dempsie, the partner of Nationalist Westminster leader Angus Robertson, was a special adviser to Salmond from 2007 to 2009, then worked for the SNP for four years before starting work as a public relations consultant.

The grant was agreed as support for the festival’s relocation from its traditional home in Balado in Perth and Kinross following environmental concerns, to Strathallan Castle.

T in the Park’s success [cannot] be built on cronyism

Willie Rennie

However, the award of public funds to a commercial event has been challenged by opposition parties who have called on the Scottish Government to explain the reason for the grant.

DF Concerts is 78 per cent owned by London-based LN-

Gaiety Holdings, which last year had a turnover of £167 million and a pre-tax profit of £9m.

Scottish Labour culture spokeswoman Claire Baker, in a letter to the minister, said: “Given the success of T in the Park, these figures surely raise the question of why the festival needed any form of public funding.”

Dempsie is campaigning to become an SNP list MSP in the Highlands and Islands at next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.

A Scottish Government spokesperson defending the grant, stating: “T in the Park is one of Scotland’s most popular and successful annual cultural events supporting jobs and generating £15.4m last year for the Scottish economy. Recognising the significant economic benefits this event delivers for Scotland, the Scottish Government made a £150,000 contribution this year to ensure the successful transition of the festival to a new site at Strathallan. Details of the award were proactively published on the Scottish Government’s website.

“This award is entirely consistent with the national events strategy, in line with which financial and other support is provided to a range of major cultural and sporting events in Scotland. Recent examples include Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, the John Muir Festival and the World Pipe Band Championships.

“In her role as Project Manager for DF Concerts, Ms Dempsie supported her employer to seek a meeting with the Scottish Government. A meeting took place between Fiona Hyslop and DF Concerts’ Chief Executive Geoff Ellis on 28 May 2015. Ms Dempsie did not attend the meeting or play any part in discussions with Ministers about this funding.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the grant raised concerns about cronyism involving the SNP Government and its supporters.

Rennie said: “T in the Park has been great for Perth and Kinross and the whole of Scotland, but as a thriving business, people will also want assurances its success is not being built on the foundations of cronyism.”

The Scottish Government confirmed Dempsie’s involvement in setting up the meeting with the minister to discuss funding. A spokeswoman for T in the Park said: “Jennifer was employed as project manager on a short-term contract to help with the T in the Park site relocation.”