Tayside and Central Scotland

Culture secretary quizzed over £150,000 state aid to T in the Park

Fiona Hyslop committee
Image caption Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said she was standing up for festivals in Scotland

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has appeared before a Holyrood committee to explain why the Scottish government gave £150,000 to the T in the Park music festival.

Accusations of "cronyism" were made after the MSP approved a grant to help the event move to a new site.

MSPs have questioned why the popular event needed taxpayer funds.

Ms Hyslop insisted funding was appropriate, transparent and in line with amounts given to other events.

The Scottish government published more than 600 pages of emails and documents related to the £150,000 payment. Find out what was in them.

A former SNP aide who set up a meeting between Ms Hyslop and festival organisers DF Concerts has since abandoned plans to stand for election.

Jennifer Dempsie, a former aide to Alex Salmond, was working on a contract for DF Concerts as a festival project manager at the time of the meeting, ahead of the grant being awarded.

She had planned to run as a list MSP for the SNP in the Highlands and Islands constituency in the 2016 elections, but decided earlier this month not to take forward her nomination.

Image copyright PA
Image caption MSPs have called for a "major review" of public safety at the event after big transport problems

Ms Hyslop told the committee that festival bosses had "expressed concern" about the "long term future" of the event, due to the seven-figure cost of moving from Balado to Strathallan, and said there was a risk the festival could have moved away from Scotland.

Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said the grant was "a done deal" because of Ms Dempsie's "close connections with the SNP", and asked if this was a "fraudulent application".

'Cultural offering'

Ms Hyslop underlined that she met with DF Concerts CEO Geoff Ellis, who she said has no connection with the party.

She said she didn't know that Ms Dempsie had made the original request, noting that she hadn't attended the meeting, although she had met the former party advisor at the SNP conference.

Ms Scanlon - who said she was given 628 pages of material after 20:00 the night before the meeting - said there was a list of emails from Ms Dempsie to the culture secretary's office. Ms Hyslop said she had not personally read them.

When pressed by Labour MSP Mark Griffin, Ms Hyslop said she had been clear right from the start that her interest was in the "longer-term viability of the event", saying "I'm standing up for T in the Park".

She said: "My interest is the economic interest of this country and the cultural offering we have got for generations of young people, and the development of the contemporary music scene in Scotland."

Ms Hyslop said she was told that DF Concerts had been considering changing or moving the event out of Perthshire.

She said: "They said that their shareholders were giving them pressure to move from being a multi-day, multi-stage event.

"They indicated that if they wanted to have the festival in that format, they might have to move out of Scotland."

Ms Hyslop also underlined that there were conditions included in the grant which meant the government could "claw back" the funds if the event did move away, but said she had a "responsibility to act" due to the festival's importance to Scotland.

Business case

Conservative MSP Liz Smith queried why a "cast iron" business case for the grant was not put before the committee, with information in the paperwork provided heavily redacted.

Ms Hyslop said she would like to be able to provide confidential commercial figures, but said "that's not how government works".

She said: "Officials looked at this very robustly, we made sure it was compliant with state aid, and the final grant was signed off by officers. As much assurance as I can give you, I have done."

A spokeswoman for DF Concerts earlier said there was "nothing secret at all" about the grant, noting that the awards process was "as transparent as it is for any other event or organisation".

The festival was staged at Strathallan Castle for the first time this summer, following a move from its long-time home at Balado.

There were calls for a "major review" after widespread transport problems and delays at the Perthshire site.

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