'Unadulterated shambles': Probe launched into £120m 'Festival of Brexit'

The SEE Monster opened in Weston-super-Mare at the end of September after months of delays Credit: PA

An investigation has been launched into the £120million so-called "festival of Brexit".

The public spending watchdog probe will look into the Government's 'Unboxed: Creativity in the UK' project - which includes events like Weston-super-Mare's SEE Monster.

Unboxed was officially announced under the name Festival UK* 2022 by Theresa May. North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg dubbed it the "Festival of Brexit".

It was eventually rebranded as Unboxed during Boris Johnson's premiership.

The SEE Monster is just one of many exhibitions put together under the 'Unboxed' name to celebrate Brexit Britain - but the project is being investigated after £120million of taxpayer money was used to fund it.

A cross-party parliamentary committee has asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to look into how the project was managed to “help get to the bottom of how so much taxpayer money could be frittered away for so little return”.

It was revealed in August that the UK-wide festival received less than one per cent of visitors compared to organisers' initial "stretch target" of 66 million.

However, organisers say those figures “misrepresent the public engagement” and reflect attendance at only eight of 107 physical locations within the event’s programme.

The art installation was opened almost 2 months later than planned.

The SEE Monster, a huge decommissioned oil rig, is one of Unboxed's most famous attractions.

It was due to open throughout the summer holidays, with around 200,000 people expected to visit. But a series of delays meant it opened two months later than planned, on September 24.

SEE Monster will be dismantled on 6 November due to planning restrictions.

Cllr Mike Solomon, executive member from the neighbourhoods and community services said North Somerset Council were right to accept the project but added that there have been many issues.

"It's a success but it's a very, very costly success

"I think it's great for Weston and it's brought the footfall in. But if you look at the overall picture with all the problems people are having with energy, cost of living etc. That £120million for all the projects - and ours I think is one of the biggest - it's an awful lot of money to be spent at this time. I'm not sure if it was a wise spend.

"One of my other issues with it was the fact it was late. It was late in coming. We wanted it in the summer months to bring more families in. If you look at the demographic today it is older people. Everyone is enjoying it but it should have come earlier. "

The Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) called for the investigation into Unboxed last month after previously finding the festival to be an “irresponsible use of public money” and criticising its planning as a “recipe for failure”.

According to the committee’s highly critical report, published in March, the event’s organisers rejected its characterisation as a festival of Brexit.

The Government and organisers said the programme has reached every part of the UK, in more than 100 towns, cities and villages, spreading work, and opportunities and opening up access to culture.

Chairman of the DCMS Committee, Conservative MP Julian Knight, said: “That such an exorbitant amount of public cash has been spent on a so-called celebration of creativity that has barely failed to register in the public consciousness raises serious red flags about how the project has been managed from conception through to delivery.

DCMS Committee chairman Julian Knight MP Credit: PA

“The NAO’s investigation will bring welcome and thorough scrutiny and help get to the bottom of how so much taxpayer money could be frittered away for so little return.”

Calling for the investigation in September, Mr Knight said the design and delivery of the festival “has been an unadulterated shambles”, adding: “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.”

A DCMS spokesperson said: “We do not agree with the select committee’s views.

“Unboxed has helped open up access to arts and culture across the country with an inclusive and groundbreaking programme of live and digital events, designed to bring people together and delivered in partnership with the devolved nations of the UK.

“More than four million people have engaged in Unboxed programming so far and these numbers are set to rise further.”