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In what’s been described as “symbolic” of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016, a government event dubbed the “festival of Brexit” is being investigated over fears £120 million of taxpayer’s money was “frittered away”.

Unboxed: Creativity in Britain had a “stretch target” of 66 million visitors across its range of activities, but PoliticsHome reported in August it had managed to attract just 238,000. One official from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) even told the DCMS Committee the government “did not know what it [the festival] was”.

Great start.

All of this and more prompted the group of MPs to request that the UK’s public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), investigate whether the festival represents “value for money”.

Its chair, Julian Knight MP, had previously described the design and delivery of Unboxed as “an adulterated shambles from the very start” and an “excessive waste of money”.

In the committee’s report from March this year, the group warned the government had “thus far failed to communicate a compelling vision for [Unboxed] to the British public” and that it “seriously questions” whether it will deliver on its investment.

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The government disagreed with the report’s assessment of Unboxed, arguing it was receiving “an overwhelmingly positive public and critical response” and that they were “confident” it would “demonstrate lasting value” to UK citizens.

Commenting on the NAO’s decision to probe the festival’s spending, Mr 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.

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

Personally, we find it hilariously fitting that the ‘o’ in Unboxed’s logo looks like a black hole – make of that what you will.

In response to Mr Knight’s request, the NAO’s comptroller and auditor general Gareth Davies proposed “a short, focused report” on the festival to be published “by the end of 2022”.

The NAO’s decision to investigate Unboxed has, of course, been ridiculed online:

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.”

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