Festival of Brexit is £120m ‘waste of money’ and heading for failure, MPs say

Scathing select committee report blasts government’s handling of ‘irresponsible’ project

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 16 March 2022 07:54 GMT
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Boris Johnson's planned "Festival of Brexit" is a waste of public money and and set for failure, a committee of MPs has warned.

In a scathing report the cross party-culture media and sport select committee criticised the government's handling of the £120 million project – which is set to take place this year.

The event is now officially known as "Unboxed: Creativity in the UK" but government figures including Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg have characterised it a "festival of Brexit".

MPs say they were told that the event's final name could not be chosen before October 2021, less than a year before it was due to take place, because ministers “did not know what it was”.

In a previous version of its branding the event was known as "Festival UK* 2022," a name which notably featured an unpronounceable asterix.

The committee took issue with the framing of the project, which officials at the culture department billed as including "something for everyone" – despite being advised that it should not "be all things to all people".

They were was also concerned that very few people knew that the event was happening or what it involves, with its purpose remaining "vague".

"Since the event’s inception in 2018, the aims for Festival UK* 2022/Unboxed: Creativity in the UK have been vague and ripe for misinterpretation by the press and public at large," the cross party report, released on Wednesday said.

"We see no evidence to refute such scepticism now. The desire for it to seemingly cater to everyone, everywhere, is a recipe for failure and investing £120 million in something when the government, by their own admission, 'did not know what it was' is an irresponsible use of public money."

The event's organisers have explicitly rejected the “festival of Brexit” label and say it is in fact "a UK-wide groundbreaking celebration of creativity taking place in 2022".

It is expected to run from March to October 2022.

The "about" section of the Unboxed claims: "We’re lifting the lid on 10 awe-inspiring new ideas, shaped across science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics by brilliant minds working in unexpected collaborations.

"Unmissable events and unforgettable experiences are coming to places and spaces right across the UK: from coastal towns and city centres to breathtaking areas of natural beauty."

Julian Knight, the Conservative MP who chairs the culture select committee, said the festival’s “muddled approach” was a “sure-fire recipe for failure”.

“Despite the UK having a strong reputation on the world stage as a leading host of sporting and cultural events, there is no golden thread linking them all together. Unless the government urgently addresses this lack of strategy and vision, it will continue to risk squandering the benefits such occasions can bring, while wasting the hard-earned money of taxpayers,” he said.

"The Unboxed festival acts as a prime illustration of an event with aims that have been vague from the start. That it took three years to come up with a rather nebulous name, which will mean little to the few that are even aware of its existence, does not bode well for its chances of delivering a true lasting legacy.

"How this questionable example of planning is playing out should act as wake-up call for the government. Such a muddled approach is a sure-fire recipe for failure and we have no confidence that it can meet its ambitious targets for engagement or deliver a return on the substantial investment from the public coffers.”

Martin Green CBE, chief creative officer of Unboxed said: “Unboxed is an ambitious programme of ten free major multi-site and digital creative projects designed to bring people together in a UK-wide celebration of creativity, delivered in partnership with the four nations of the UK.”

“Unboxed opened in Paisley on 1 March with an overwhelmingly positive public response, underpinning a commitment to bring large-scale cultural programming to places often underserved.”

A DCMS spokesperson said: "We disagree with the committee's findings.

"The UK has a strong history of hosting incredible international events that deliver huge benefits for the nation, creating jobs and increasing investment in towns and cities across the country.

"2022 will be no different with Her Majesty The Queen's Platinum Jubilee, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the Women's Euros, the Rugby League World Cup and UNBOXED bringing people together and leaving a strong legacy that will benefit communities for years to come."

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