A probe has been launched into the £120million spent on the “UK Unboxed” project – dubbed by critics as the “Festival of Brexit”. The National Audit Office (NAO) announced it is to investigate the spending of the taxpayer money scrutinise its value for money.
Unboxed opened 10 large creative projects earlier this year to celebrate creativity in the UK.
The live events took place in 107 locations throughout the four nations of the UK.
The year-long programme was first announced by Theresa May in 2018 with the aim of bringing the country together.
Unboxed was intended to evoke the spirit of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the 1951 Festival of Britain.
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However, it quickly became politicised with politicians drawing a link between the project and Brexit.
Organisers were then accused of going “woke” with a series of installations such as an event called “Yshee’s Drag Party” and one on the “possibilities of decolonial practice within art and horticulture and how this might encourage wider change in society”.
In total, 2.8 million people attended the Unboxed live events, with a further 13.5 million accessing digital and broadcast content.
The numbers are far short of the 66 million ambition originally set out by the festival’s chief creative officer, Martin Green.
The NAO said it would report on “the costs and benefits associated with Unboxed; its management as a programme including accountabilities and decision-making processes; and planning work undertaken, including forecasting of visitor numbers”.
Defending Unboxed the project’s executive director, Phil Batty, said: “These cultural experiences have showcased the very best of science, the very best of tech and the very best of the arts through live and through digital.”
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“66 million was never a visitor target for this programme,” he added when speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It was a creative ambition for the programme, it was an ambition because we wanted to be really inclusive for the whole of the UK, and I think we’ve delivered that.
“I believe it has been very successful because we’ve seen that whether that’s live events in towns and villages there’s been an economic boost.
“But also we’ve seen major free cultural projects provided to millions of people right across the UK, and that’s hugely important.”
Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee of MPs, Julian Knight, has criticised the project as a “colossal waste of money”.
He blamed the attempts to politicise the project as being about Brexit for some of the problems, but claimed there was a lack of vision for what the programme wanted to achieve.
The Conservative MP said: “There was certainly some stigma over the phrase ‘festival of Brexit’ at the start for certain artists, but the reality is that this was clearly a failure of the project.
“It was a failure in terms of having an idea and actually having something that resonated with people.”