How generous of our culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, to donate £150,000 of taxpayers’ money to DF Concerts, promoter of the music festival, ‘T in the Park’.
This was not long after the company had announced pre-tax profits of £6 million, and something of which the SNP government was already aware when approving the money, according to a revelation by The Herald.
Let us set aside the other dimension to this story which is that a recent employee of DF Concerts was one Jennifer Dempsie, who is the partner of Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster and who until recently had aspirations to become an MSP.
T in the Park had already received £80,000 three years ago from the arts quango, Creative Scotland – ultimately answerable to the culture secretary -and Ms Dempsie was not involved on that occasion.
However, as an aside it does seem worth noting that with its maze of active relatives – spouses (the deputy leader and his minister for health, for example), live-in partners, mothers and daughters (Nicola Sturgeon and her councillor mum), siblings, aunties and uncles, cousins, etc., the SNP does seem to resemble a family firm as much as a political organisation.
So whether the above is relevant or not, the real issue is why Fiona Hyslop – one of the few members of the SNP hierarchy who held a professional job in the private sector prior to becoming a full-time politician – thought it appropriate to give £150,000 to a private company for what was, after all, a pop concert.
The culture secretary has defended her position by saying that the forced move to this year’s venue of Strathallan (from Balado) in Perth and Kinross led to extra costs for the promoter, who suggested that if public assistance was not forthcoming, the size of the event would have to be scaled down or even taken out of Scotland altogether.
To which the response of many might be, “So what?”
We are, after all, talking about a weekend of musical entertainment aimed at a minority audience (i.e. teenagers and young adults), which is not short on alternatives. No more, no less.
If the event had to be reduced in size then perhaps the best (and for the taxpayer, the cheapest) option would have been to return to Strathclyde Park where T in the Park had its roots. I’m sure such a move would have been welcomed by the taxi companies, ice-cream vendors, café-owners, guest houses and small convenience stores in the adjacent towns of Motherwell and Hamilton.
Perthshire’s loss would be Lanarkshire’s gain.
As for quitting Scotland, It’s not as if DF Concerts was seeking financial assistance to launch a unique piece of computer software with a potential world market; or planning a Donald Trump-type international golf course, that would attract tourists and professional competitors from across the globe.
In other words, how big a loss would the absence of T in the Park be to the Scottish economy (if indeed the promoters were really serious about carrying out their threat to quit Scotland)?
The answer would have to be: in the great scheme of things virtually zero; zilch.
This seems, sadly, to be another example of the inability of party politicians to understand business and entrepreneurship, which to be fair is certainly not confined to the SNP. Frequently, they tend to focus too much on the ‘popularity’ of a project designated for public subsidy rather than the balance of risk and reward (to and for the taxpayer).
An Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘entrepreneur’ is ‘a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit’ (my italics).
Indeed, I would go further and say that, by keeping owners and/or directors focussed, risk is an essential element in helping a new business first get started, to survive its first six months and then grow. Should governments take away that risk there can be no entrepreneurship.
And if politicians continue not to ‘get this’ then the ‘smart, successful Scotland’ to which they claim to aspire will continue to elude our country.
Still, Strathallan showed that the ‘next big thing’ in product terms is always just around the corner…..
Despite the controversy referred to above, there was at least one good business vibe to come out of this year’s T in the Park.
The day before the event was due to open, I came across hundreds of noisy but good-natured young pop fans queuing for transport at Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square bus station to take them to Strathallan.
What was particularly noticeable was that, in addition to the inevitable rucksacks, many were carrying portable tents and fold-away seats, made up mainly of light aluminium and Polyester.
To someone of my generation this seemed rather incongruous because when I was of an age to want to attend pop concerts, even the smallest tents back then were heavy and bulky and generally confined to that minority of hill-walking purists who eschewed hotels, bed & breakfast accommodation and even ten shillings a night hostels. As for portable seating, this was the preserve of tweedy toffs who used them to rest their weary legs at county/agricultural shows or gymkhana events.
Who back then would have believed that tents and canvas seats would become popular with an essentially young crowd of urbanites, thanks to T in the Park and similar events such as The Wickerman Festival and Glastonbury?
Once relatively expensive, these products can now be purchased for little more than a 12-pack premium lager of the type young adults take to contemporary outdoor music festivals – as well as being light enough to carry without weighing down the bearer. Clearly, therefore, a combination of new technology, improved production techniques, more efficient transportation and competitive pricing has brought two previously minority products to the mass market
A sign, then, that the next big profitable scheme is ‘just around the corner’ – if there are those with enough foresight to identify, and then exploit, it.
And by ‘exploitation’, the beneficiaries will not just be entrepreneurs but the workers they take on and the government whose coffers will be boosted by the taxes paid by said workers.
But is any politician listening?