Edinburgh City Council pulls plug on crisis-hit Mela festival

CITY council chiefs have pulled the plug on support for the crisis-hit Edinburgh Mela festival in the wake of widespread concerns over how the event has been run, The Scotsman can reveal.

The city council has urged the members of the Mela board to ditch any plans to go ahead with the event. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The city council has urged the members of the Mela board to ditch any plans to go ahead with the event. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Senior figures say there is no question of public funding being ploughed into this year’s event after the walk-out of its director and the resignation of a string of board members.

The local authority has withdrawn its backing after the repeated failure of the Mela to tackle widespread concerns about governance, financial management and the quality of the festival being planned for this summer.

The city council has urged the remaining members of the Mela board to ditch any plans to go ahead with a dramatically scaled-down version of the event this summer in order to protect its long-term future.

The council’s move has emerged days after it emerged that alleged financial irregularities were being investigated by the police. The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator had also launched a probe into the event.

The Mela has now lost more than £350,000 worth of public funding after both the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland also ruled out backing this year’s event.

A final decision on whether to attempt to stage the two-day event at the end of August will be taken in the next fortnight.


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The Mela was plunged into crisis in March by the resignation of Chris Purnell, who was appointed director in 2011.

He claimed the event was being “destroyed from within “ and warned it was being taken to the “brink of catastrophe” by its board, accusing several long-standing members of a “reckless disregard” for its own rules.

Richard Lewis, the city council’s culture leader, said: “We’ve not had clear answers to the various questions we’ve had about the Mela in the last few months. On that basis, we’re not prepared to fund the event.

“There have been long-running concerns about the governance of the event, financial management and the quality of the artistic programme without a director. None of these have been resolved.

“We’ve got to be absolutely professional about this. There is simply not enough money in the arts for the council to be throwing it away on a whim. My budget has been squeezed on every side.

“We have a responsibility to all the festivals in the city. The worst thing for any arts organisation to do is to go ahead and put on an inferior event.


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“We’re hugely disappointed as this has been a brilliant festival. They’d be very ill-advised to go ahead with an event. It would affect the standing of everyone else and would also affect the possibility of securing funding in future as they would be judged on their previous work. It would be foolhardy for them to go ahead and damage its reputation.”

Shami Khan, chair of the Mela’s board, refused to say whether an event would go ahead without any public funding. The former city councillor said he did not see any reason to stand down.