£120m festival of Brexit 'recipe for failure', DCMS told

No-one in government has taken clear ownership for 2022’s programme of events, MPs warn
'About Us', an installation and live performance event which launched Unboxed: Creativity in the UK. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

17 Mar 2022

MPs have warned the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that its "festival of Brexit" is a "recipe for failure" due to "muddled" planning, urging the government to see the festival as a wake up call.

The DCMS committee released a report yesterday slamming the department's failure to implement a “clear” strategy for hosting major cultural and sporting events, highlighting the Unboxed festival – which Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg among others has called a "festival of Brexit" – as a particular concern.

The committee said the UK is failing to fully capitalise on the opportunities and benefits of hosting major events because of a lack of overall vision and direction from the government.

No-one in government has taken clear ownership for 2022’s programme of events, and there are “few meaningful links between the events themselves”, MPs added.

The committee asked for the government to be clearer in the future about what it is trying to achieve through major events and how they fit with wider policy priorities, and to embed that vision through long-term planning and resourcing.

“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,” DCMS committee chair Julian Knight said.

“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.”

The committee said it can see “no golden thread” linking different public events or “tying them to a vision for the future of this country”.

MPs highlighted the £120m investment in the Unboxed: Creativity in the UK festival as particularly worrisome and a prime example of the lack of strategy.

The committee described the eight-month-long celebration of creativity following the UK’s exit from the EU as “vague and shape-shifting”.

The desire for it to seemingly cater to everyone, everywhere, is a recipe for failure and investing £120m in something when the government, by their own admission, 'did not know what it was' is an irresponsible use of public money," the report said.

Despite ambitious “stretch targets” for the amount of engagement the festival will get, there remains a worrying lack of detail about how that will be achieved, the report added.

Culture minister Nadine Dorries said in January that Unboxed "will inspire the next generation of artists and innovators".

But Knight said the festival is "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," he added.

“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.”

MPs also highlighted the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as a concern. They said the sporting event is a great opportunity for the people of the West Midlands but there has not been sufficient priority given to legacy funding and long-term evaluation.

The report also calls for guaranteed funding for UK City of Culture hosts and warns that the government must establish an independent regulator for English football, as recommended by the fan-led review of football governance, before the campaign to host Euro 2028 begins.

DCMS said it disagrees 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," a DCMS spokeperson said.

"2022 will be no different with 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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