Statement by Alex Rowley MSP
Further to my recent interview on BBC Radio Scotland, I consider it would be helpful to clarify my position in relation to the role of the SNP Government and DF Concerts and Events (“DF Concerts”) regarding the grant made by our government to DF Concerts. The grant in question is for the T in The Park music festival held at the Strathallan Estate, Perthshire.
The Scottish Government was approached directly by a former advisor to the former First Minister (Alex Salmond), to receive financial assistance in relation to the T in The Park Event. That financial assistance was to be paid directly to DF Concerts, who were staging the event.
The advisor in question, Jennifer Dempsie, was employed in a very senior capacity for DF Concerts as the Project Manager for the T in The Park Event. The advisor was able to procure a meeting with the Scottish Government and I believe the matter was also discussed at the SNP Party conference in March 2015 which Ms Dempsie also attended as a prospective MSP candidate.
In addition to these meetings the Minister (Fiona Hyslop) advised the Scottish Parliament that there had been no other communication between herself and Ms Dempsie. I understand there are investigations ongoing as to whether this representation was accurate, as it appears that Ms Hyslop and Ms Dempsie may have been in communication via social media.
Ultimately state aid was granted to DF Concerts to the extent of £150 000. This aid was in the form of a grant. There is no provision for it to be repaid unless the T in The Park festival is moved from the Strathallan estate before 2018. If that happens, the grant is repaid to the tune of £50 000 for each year it is not held there up to 2018. Given that planning permission has been granted to 2018, that is highly unlikely to happen. In essence a non-repayable financial sum of £150 000 has been paid by the Scottish people to a private company.
As I explained in my interview, there is a real lack of transparency in the process by which this money came to be paid. DF Concerts is a highly profitable company. It turned over in 2013 in excess of £45 000 000 and made a gross profit of around £6 400 000. I note that they appear to have failed to lodge their accounts for 2014 timeously, even though that financial information was made available to the Scottish Government. Why the Scottish Government is paying money into the coffers of such a profitable company raises many questions that require answered.
It is naturally a concern of all taxpayers in Scotland, at a time when cuts in public expenditure are being made across all services, that public funds are not simply made over to an incredibly profitable private company. If public money is paid over, there should be (a) a clear requirement for funding ;(b) a distinct discernible public (as opposed to private) benefit; (c) there should not be other private funding available ; and finally (d) a fully open and transparent process that is legally compliant, leading to the payment of the money.
I made a comment that it is not in the gift of ministers to simply hand out money to former special advisers. I have been asked for legal clarification on this point. It is obvious that no payment should simply be made to special advisers. For clarity sake, however, I did not state that Ms Dempsie received money directly from ministers. The nature of her remuneration from DF Concerts (and whether she received any form of bonus from them for the T in The Park grant) I am not privy to. What is important here though, is that all government spending must be made in accordance with clear and open criteria. The whole procedure (including the circumstances of all meetings with Ministers and government officials) should be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. This is to ensure that the proper checks and balances are met and that the people of Scotland’s money is used for appropriate purposes and not for private benefit. The people of Scotland’s money not only must be spent appropriately, but must be seen to be spent appropriately. From the very sparse information made available by the Scottish Government that does not appear to have happened here.
5 October 2015