Former Edinburgh Mela boss takes festival board to court

Desi Bravehearts at an earlier Edinburgh Mela. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Desi Bravehearts at an earlier Edinburgh Mela. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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A troubled festival is to be hauled in front of an employment tribunal by its former director.

The Edinburgh Mela event was scrapped in 2016 amid a £600,000 drop in funding after boss Chris Purnell stormed out.

Now Mr Purnell has brought an official complaint against his former employers, alleging “constructive unfair dismissal” with a hearing due to start this Monday.

“It’s tragic, it really is tragic,” Mr Purnell said yesterday, discussing how his tenure at the festival’s helm ended.

“It’s been a very painful period for myself and I’m sure everybody else involved.”

Asked to comment further on the dispute, Mr Purnell said: “Not at this point. There are ongoing discussions.

“I may have more to say depending on how certain discussions go, but I don’t want to prejudice any discussions at this time.”

Recognised as Scotland’s biggest multicultural event, the Mela attracts more than 25,000 revellers over two days on Leith Links.

Mr Purnell dramatically quit his post in March 2016 amid a raft of explosive allegations against the board.

Citing a “total breakdown of trust”, he claimed a number of board members displayed a “reckless disregard” for the organisation’s own rules.

He alleged staff were “subjected to open hostility, accused of disrespect and insulting board members simply for conducting due diligence in the course of their duties”.

Mr Purnell also warned of a growing “funding crisis”, which took the event to the “brink of catastrophe” after 21 successive years.

The 2016 Mela was cancelled and accounts lodged at Companies House showed funding plummeted that year, from £611,000 to a solitary £10,000 grant from Edinburgh City Council.

Mr Purnell told the 15-strong board: “The damage this may cause to the Mela, both in immediate practical terms and to its reputation, is incalculable. The board is controlled by a small group with no regard for the opinions of other board members, the advice of the staff or independent professional voices, however reasonable.”

Traditional funders of the Mela have included the city council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government, via its Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund.

The Mela did return in September last year and was hailed as a success, attracting international dance and music acts.

Interim Edinburgh Mela chair Geoff Palmer has been in the post for less than a month after former councillor Lesley Hinds quit.

Mr Palmer refused to discuss details of the tribunal, which pre-dated him joining the board a year ago, but said he was determined to see the Mela pull through its latest controversy.

“I think the Mela is an important community organisation – it’s been there for over 21 years,” Mr Palmer said. “I believe the event is for the community and should survive because people want it.”