It may have been branded twice, but it seems nothing could save The Festival of Brexit, AKA Unboxed, from tanking in the public engagement stakes. With a target of 66 million punters, the series of events across 107 locations purportedly attracted a mere 240k attendees, although these figures were refuted by the festivals executive director today, who claims the audience number should include the 13.5 million who accessed digital and broadcast content and the 1.7 million who took part in learning, volunteer and community participation activities.
Touted as the festival to welcome the golden age of post Brexit Britain, Theresa May carved off £120 million of public funds to support the event which launched in March 2022 and will run to the end of November 2022.
According to Unboxed Report and Financial Statement to July 2021, the overall budget totalling £120 million was allocated from a combination of the DCMS, The Northern Island Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government. The company was a 100% subsidiary of the the Birmingham Organising Committee for the 2022 Commonwealth Games Limited. £3.6million of payments was made to the 30 teams that took part in the R&D programme, to develop ideas for the festival and then initial funding of £1.5mil given to the 10 selected programs. These projects were chosen from 300 applications across technology, engineering, maths, science and the arts.
However, the National Audit Office (NAO) has launched an investigation into how the £120m project was managed, with such a small number of people reported to have visited the actual events, in contrast to an early target of 66 million. In the Festivals ‘Spend over £25k report’, more than £1.4 million was paid to advertising giant Manning Gottlieb OMD and more than £200k to 7 Stars Media, purportedly the UK’s largest independent media agency. So where did the promotion go so wrong? This information was sourced within the Unboxed website, by going several layers deep into the company board meetings minutes and financial audit documents, it was difficult to otherwise source contracts that outlined advertising or other promotional spend.
Chair of the DCMS Committee Julian Knight MP called for the investigation last month after previously finding the festival to be an “irresponsible use of public money”
Knight said “The design and delivery of Unboxed has been an unadulterated shambles from the very start. The paltry numbers attracted to the festival despite such a hefty investment highlight just what an excessive waste of money the whole project has been. It would take optimism beyond belief for it to now reach its target for visitor numbers. At a time of financial pain for so many during the cost of living crisis, there are serious questions that need answering as to how such a vast amount of tax payers’ cash has been allowed to be squandered on something that we warned months ago risked turning in to a fiasco.”
The Committee previously criticised the delivery of Unboxed in its report in March on major cultural and sporting events.The Report concluded that the £120million investment was ‘an irresponsible use of public money’ given the Government’s own admission that it does not know what it is for. The Committee warned that it is ‘far from clear’ that it will deliver a return on investment.
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Cover image-Green Space and Dark Skies courtesy of Unboxed.