The £120m Unboxed project, under investigation by spending watchdog, fell well short of 66 million aspiration
A national festival celebrating British creativity that cost taxpayers £120m has attracted audiences of 18 million since it opened in the spring, but with only 2.8 million attending live events, according to its organisers.
The headline figure includes the television audience of a special edition of the BBC programme Countryfile broadcast last month, which included a 15-minute segment of content created by Unboxed. Countryfile has an average weekly audience of 6 million.
Unboxed, which was commissioned by Theresa May in 2018 and was initially known as the “festival of Brexit”, was “a real investment for the taxpayer”, Phil Batty, its executive director, said.
As well as 2.8 million people visiting free live events, 13.5 million accessed digital and broadcast content and 1.7 million took part in learning, volunteer and community participation activities.
The audience figures far exceed a report in The House magazine in August that claimed 238,000 people had visited Unboxed in its first few months. They also fall far short of an ambitious “stretch target” of 66 million set by the festival’s chief creative officer, Martin Green, who left Unboxed last month to run next year’s Eurovision song contest in Liverpool.
Unboxed provided no breakdown for the 10 projects that formed the overall arts and science festival, saying detailed data would be included in a report by the National Audit Office due to be published next week.
The spending watchdog is investigating whether the eight-month festival was value for money after a parliamentary committee warned of an “irresponsible use” of public funds.
The NAO said it would report on “the costs and benefits associated with Unboxed; its management as a programme including accountabilities and decision- making processes; and planning work undertaken, including forecasting of visitor numbers.”
Calling for the NAO to investigate, Julian Knight, the Conservative MP who chairs the digital, culture, media and sport committee, 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.”
Batty said headline audience data was being released before the NAO report because “there is still misinformation out there”.
He added: “Unboxed has been a real investment for the taxpayer because we’ve had free access to culture in person and online across the eight months during a year when free things for people to access and enjoy has been really important.
“Beneath that, the programme has supported thousands of jobs across not just the cultural sector, but within science, tech, engineering, local communities. So there is a return on that investment, both in terms of amazing cultural participation and the social benefits that that could deliver, and the benefit to the places that we’ve been and the organisations that we’ve invested the money in.”
Green’s aspiration of 66 million people was never a hard target, said Batty. The festival’s goal was “to create something for the whole UK, something that anyone, no matter where they live, could access. So we moved away from traditional forms of festival delivery to find a form of delivery that was much broader, much wider, much more open.”
The live programme finished at the weekend with the closing of See Monster, a public art installation housed on a decommissioned North Sea oil platform relocated to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and About Us, an immersive lightshow, at the Tower of London.
The 10 projects, chosen from 300 submitted ideas were available at 107 locations across the UK during the festival. Six thousand jobs and “paid development opportunities” were supported by Unboxed. Green described it as the UK’s “biggest and most ambitious public creative programme to date”.
The free events, installations and digital experiences included an immersive group hallucination triggered by lights, a journey through 13.8bn years of history from the big bang to the present told through a light show, a scale version of the solar system as an 8.5km sculptural trail, and a city centre garden celebrating the diversity of the UK through the lens of plants.
But the project was dogged by the “festival of Brexit” label that arose after May commissioned it.
“It is not a Brexit festival. It never has been a Brexit festival,” said Batty. “And we’ve had to challenge that a lot over the life of this project, which has meant that it has taken up an unfair proportion of the oxygen around the conversation.
“The conversation when people have been engaging with the commissions hasn’t been about Brexit. It’s been about science and about the planet and what we might do with structures like gas rigs in the future if we were to find new purposes for them.”
Stuart Andrew, the minister for sport, tourism and civil society, said the festival had “taken culture to the doorsteps of millions in communities right across the UK” and “inspired people who attended events, got involved online or watched on TV”.
Much of the problematical immigration into this country stems not just from the EU but from the European convention of human rights. This is exacerbated by the rulings of judges in the court at Strasbourg and by our own UK courts implementing the Human Rights Act. Repeal of the HRA and adoption of new bill of rights, breaking free from the ECHR, would also relieve us of migrant pressure, including such absurdities as not being able to deport illegal immigrants who come to us via Calais, because – according to our judges – France is not a “safe” country for asylum seekers.
Outside the EU and freed from the writ of the ECHR, “freedom of movement” within the EEA could be limited to free movement of workers, without having to accept dependants and members of their extended families.
Michael Gove has failed to name a single change from Brexit that has “made business easier”, as criticism of the economic harm from the trade deal grows.
The leading campaigner for EU withdrawal was asked six times to set out how the promised “transformation of our economy” has been achieved – six years after the Leave vote.
Mr Gove pointed to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and gene-editing, as well as freedom for the UK to “make our rivers cleaner, our air purer, our soil more resilient” as benefits of Brexit.
But he was accused of failing to identify any change that has “made the life of businesses easier by leaving the EU”, being told, on BBC Radio 4: “If I was from the CBI, I might be tempted to say ‘is that it?’”
The leading business group has hit out at the punishing barriers from ending frictionless trade with the EU, which is forecast to trigger a 4 per cent GDP slump.
But Rishi Sunak, fearing attacks from Tory right-wingers, has rejected calls to soften the terms of the Christmas 2020 trade deal – or more short-term visas for badly-needed workers.
On Radio 4, Mr Gove, the levelling up secretary, was asked: “How have you made the life of businesses easier by leaving the EU?”
He pointed to having “got rid of the Common Agricultural Policy” and the UK being “in control of our own migration policy”, but was told: “That may be good in its own right, but doesn’t help business.”
Mr Gove argued removing EU agriculture rules would help the food and drink industry – “our biggest manufacturing sector” – even though it has been hit hardest by the new trade barriers.
“With gene editing, which is going to be a significant economic development that will help us grow, we are now creating a legislative framework that will allow businesses in that area and life sciences to grow,” he said.
Nick Robinson, the Today programme presenter, told Mr Gove: “If I was from the CBI, I might be tempted to say ‘Is that it? This great transformation of our economy promised six years ago – and you’re saying it’s the end of the CAP’”
Mr Gove is the second leading Brexit campaigner to struggle to identify any economic benefits, after David Davis admitted there have been “no major” gains.
The former Brexit secretary claimed the UK began delivery of Covid vaccines in 2020 before the rest of Europe – although it is strongly disputed that this was a Brexit freedom.
A report that the UK will seek “Swiss-style deal” has threatened to reignite the Tories’ Brexit wars, even though the EU is unlikely to make any such offer.
The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has claimed the “vast majority” of cross-Channel trade barriers can be removed, without explaining how.
Peter Bone told the Commons during a session of House business questions that Mr Hunt should lead a debate called “Brexit a roaring success, no turning back”.
The Chancellor also denied that Liz Truss’s mini-budget inflicted long-term damage.
“I don’t accept the 4%,” he said, arguing that the fiscal watchdog’s forecast was based on a scenario where no other changes were made that could impact the size of the economy.
He claimed that with the decisions made in last week’s budget, “the recession, the impact on GDP is much less than it would have been. And there’s a lot of growth on the other side”.
“My statement on Thursday showed how we are going to forge a different economy outside the European Union, high skill, high wage, the world’s next Silicon Valley, and with our own regulations.”
Challenged over whether he only accepts figures he likes, he said: “I accept the ones I agree with and I don’t accept the ones I don’t agree with.
When it was put to him that the budget was bad for the party’s political fortunes, he said: “No, because I actually think in the end, that’s why people vote Conservative, because they trust us on the economy to take difficult decisions. That’s what we’ve done.
“I think what people want from a Conservative government is a team of people who will take the difficult decisions, irrespective of whether it’s good for their political fortunes, because it’s right for the country.”
25th November 2022
Spain’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs said on Friday that Spain and the European Commission had presented “a global proposal” to the UK aimed at establishing an area of shared prosperity between Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar.
In a statement issued after a meeting between Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares and Campo mayors and authorities, the ministry in Madrid said the proposal “…contains very reasonable technical and practical solutions that are necessary to build an area of shared prosperity respectful of our respective legal positions.”
Mr Albares told the mayors he was “confident and hopeful” that the negotiations would conclude in a “satisfactory agreement as soon as possible”.
“The Spanish Government does not want a no deal scenario, but it must be remembered that, on the one side, Brexit is a British decision and, on the other, the commitment of both parties is needed in order to sign an agreement,” the statement from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs said.
In sketching out the main areas of the proposal, the Spanish ministry broadly reflected the aims set out in the New Year’s Eve framework agreement which sought to establish a common travel area between Gibraltar and the Schengen area, effectively suppressing immigration controls at the border.
The framework agreement envisaged a four-year implementation period during which Spain would have responsibility for Schengen checks on the Rock, but Frontex officers would carry out the work on the ground.
But Friday’s statement from Madrid, which made no mention of Frontex, also shed some light on Spain and the EU’s aspirations within the treaty negotiation in other areas that have not previously been highlighted in public debate.
“The text presented to the United Kingdom is a global proposal that includes measures on the mobility of persons, with the objective of removing the [border] fence and guaranteeing the fluidity in the movement of people,” the statement said.
“That requires that Spain controls Gibraltar’s external frontiers on Schengen’s behalf and, to that end, is able to exercise certain functions and competencies necessary to protect the integrity and security of the Schengen space.”
“The Spanish proposal also contemplates the protection and improvement the rights of workers’ and those who benefit from social security payments in Gibraltar.”
The Spanish ministry said that on customs, the proposal envisages guaranteeing the free movement of goods between the EU and Gibraltar, “without any increase in risks for the internal EU market, in particular for economic operators in the area in terms of unfair competition or illicit traffic such as tobacco”.
“As with the movement of people, this will require that Spain, in the EU’s name, exercise functions to control and protect the internal market as customs controls between Spain and Gibraltar disappear.”
“Conditions for fair competition will be preserved with a view that economic operators in Gibraltar compete on similar conditions to the rest of the economic operators in the EU and, very specifically, in the Campo de Gibraltar.”
“The text that is already in the hands of the United Kingdom also envisages measures to fight against money laundering and measures to guarantee high standards of environmental protection and nuclear safety, with a view to establishing maximum guarantees in the face of potential risks of environmental harm that impact the entire area, as well as avoiding unfair economic competition and [providing] a financial mechanism for employment and training programmes in the area.”
The Spanish statement said Spain’s position on “sovereignty and jurisdiction” in relation to Gibraltar “remains unaltered”.
“Neither a future agreement, or any action or measure taken in its application or as a result of it, implies any renunciation or modification whatsoever of the Spanish position in respect of sovereignty and jurisdiction in relation to Gibraltar,” the statement said.
First such accord after leaving EU was predicted to bring £15bn boost but UK now lags rivals
The first major free trade agreement signed by Britain after Brexit has been branded a failure after new figures showed exports had fallen since it came into force.
Liz Truss signed a “historic” deal with Japan as trade secretary in October 2020, describing it as a “landmark moment for Britain”. It was claimed it would boost trade by billions of pounds and help the UK recover from the pandemic.
However, figures collated by the Department for International Trade show exports to Japan fell from £12.3bn to £11.9bn in the year to June 2022. Exports in goods fell 4.9% to £6.1bn and services fell 2% to £5.8bn.
The decline is a significant setback for supporters of Brexit who claimed global trade with non-EU countries would help compensate for any losses from leaving the single market.
One such deal, with Australia, was criticised earlier this month by the former environment secretary George Eustice, who said it was “not actually a very good deal for the UK”.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow secretary for international trade, said: “Falling trade with Japan is irrefutable evidence that ministers are not delivering for UK exporters.
“The Conservatives have no trade policy worthy of the name and ministers are failing to stand up for UK interests in negotiations.
“This is making the huge economic damage they have caused even worse.”
The new figures follow evidence that Britain’s economy is set to struggle compared to its international counterparts.
Apart from Russia, it will be the weakest performer of the world’s big economies next year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
It also comes with Rishi Sunak under pressure inside Whitehall and among his own MPs over his current Brexit plans. He was forced to deny claims last week that he wanted to pursue a softer, “Swiss-style” Brexit that would see Britain forge a closer relationship with the EU.
However, he is now facing calls from officials to drop plans that would automatically tear up EU-derived laws by the end of next year.
The Observer has been told that the “Brexit freedoms” bill is putting such a burden on civil servants that even working through weekends has not left them enough time to examine all the implications of the plan.
Officials are having to comb through current laws because of a “sunset clause” in the retained EU law bill, under which any law not “reviewed or revoked” by the end of 2023 will be removed.
Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said the bill “could leave the UK a more dangerous and less fair place”.
“Prospect members in safety critical industries are concerned that this bill could remove important safeguards in the name of cutting red tape,” he said. “It also puts huge pressure on departmental workloads. It seems the prime minister may be forced to plough on with this bill to appease hardliners in his party. We must not end up in a situation where people’s rights at work are used as red meat to appease a small cabal of MPs.”
The performance of the Japan deal heaps further pressure on government claims that Britain can secure a “Brexit dividend”.
Department for International Trade officials said in 2020 the UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) offered significant advantages beyond the previous EU arrangement.
It claimed the estimated boost to trade between the UK and Japan could be £15bn. But in its first year since coming into force on 1 January 2021, total trade between the countries was £23.7bn, against £24.9bn in 2020, a fall of about 5%. The most recent figures show a slight recovery in total trade between the two countries.
Minako Morita-Jaeger, a senior research fellow in international trade at Sussex University business school and a policy research fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, said the government had “oversold” the UK-Japan trade agreement and it did not offer significant economic advantages over the previous EU deal. She said the early trade data did not appear encouraging.
A comparative analysis of UK-Japan trade figures for 2020 and 2021 by Morita-Jaeger and a colleague states: “In all cases but one, Japanese exports and imports of goods and services with the UK performed worse than the equivalent flows with the EU or the rest of the world.”
Morita-Jaeger said Japanese businesses had used the UK as a gateway to Europe since the 1980s.
She said research had shown firms there were having difficulties navigating the UK-EU trade framework and were considering expanding their business functions, including headquarters and production, in the EU.While the UK said the deal with Japan offered bespoke benefits, a Japanese ministry of affairs document suggests it largely rolled over the previous EU agreement.
Ministers now face mounting scrutiny over free trade deals around the world, with the total trade and goods deficit £23.7bn in July to September 2022, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics.
Economic experts now accept that Brexit will have an adverse impact on international trade as businesses struggle with the increased customs checks and bureaucracy involved in exporting to Europe.
The Office for Budget Responsibility report published this month assumes UK trading intensity will be 15% lower in the long run.
It says: “The latest evidence suggests that Brexit has had a significant adverse impact on UK trade.”
It was reported last week that senior government figures were considering a Swiss-style relationship with the EU, with fewer trading barriers. Prime minister Rishi Sunak said the UK would not pursue any post-Brexit relationship that “relies on alignment with EU laws”.
The Japanese Embassy in London said the deal “provides stability for Japanese and British companies to continue their business and trading activities with each other after Brexit”.
A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “Global trade has been significantly impacted by Covid-19, and while trade flows can fluctuate in the short term due a variety of factors, our analysis shows that the UK-Japan CEPA could increase trade by nearly £16bn and increase UK wages by £800m by 2035 compared to not having a deal.”
Cost of food imported from EU rose because of extra red tape, with poorest most affected
Brexit added almost £6bn to UK food bills in the two years to the end of 2021, affecting poorest households the most, research has found.
The cost of food imported from the EU shot up because of extra red tape, adding £210 to the average household food bills over 2020 and 2021, London School of Economics (LSE) researchers discovered.
As low-income families spend a greater share of their income on food, the impact of Brexit on their purchases was disproportionately greater, they said.
The research comes the day after data from the British Retail Consortium trade body showed UK food price inflation hit a record high of 12.4% in November as the price of basics such as eggs, dairy products and coffee rose.
Researchers at the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the LSE studied micro data-tracking trade flows and consumer prices for food products in the UK to identify the transfer of the cost of Brexit red tape to householders.
“We find that leaving the European Union increased the price of food products by 3% a year, leading to a 6% increase over a two-year period,” they say in their report, named Non-tariff barriers and consumer prices: evidence from Brexit.
Its calculations translated to a £5.84bn cost to the food market alone, equating to £210 per household.
CEP found the Brexit-induced price rise led to an overall cost of living increase for the poorest households of 1.1% – 52% more than the 0.7% rise felt in the top 10% of households in Britain.
In 2015, the year before the referendum, 77% of food imports were from the EU.
After the December 2019 election, researchers found an immediate rise in food prices from the EU as businesses reliant on products and ingredients “immediately began to pass on to consumers” the cost of customs, the report says.
Regulatory costs varied according to product, with fresh red meat products identified as having a high “non-tariff barrier” (NTB) cost because of the paperwork required but vegetables such as onions, carrots and broccoli having close to zero NTB cost.
Researchers found price rises on products with high NTBs with little significant cost for products in the low or zero NTB categories.
CEP said the EU single market was a “deep” trading bloc that eliminated tariffs, but also regulatory differences on food standards allowing frictionless trade between member states including the UK before Brexit.
Lord Frost’s Brexit trade deal signed at the end of the transition period in December 2020 ensures trade is tariff-free with the EU but created trade barriers in the form of customs, rules of original paperwork and regulatory standards checks for agri-food products.
“In leaving the EU, the UK swapped a deep trade relationship with few impediments to trade for one where a wide range of checks, forms and steps are required before goods can cross the border. Firms faced higher costs and passed most of these on to consumers,” said Richard Davies, a professor at Bristol University and co-author of the report.
He said the rise in non-tariff barriers (NTBs) for trade with the EU had contributed to the 11% inflation the UK is experiencing, the highest in 40 years.
One benefit of Brexit was that domestic food producers now faced less competition from European imports, the report noted.
But it added: “The gains to domestic firms are outstripped by the loss to domestic consumers by more than £1bn. Additionally, unlike regular tariffs, NTBs do not generate any revenue for the government.”
Nikhil Datta, assistant professor of economics at Warwick University and a co-author of the study, said: “The policy implications are stark: non-tariff barriers are an important impediment to trade that should be a first-order concern, at least on a par with tariffs, for policymakers interested in low consumer prices.”
Greed is a predictable human emotion, Walter.
The UK isn't.
Safety rules to protect children from dangerous toys and in vehicles, as well as to prevent exposure to asbestos, are set to be scrapped as part of a bonfire of EU laws,.
No fewer than 212 regulations with “safety” in their titles are in line to be repealed – under a fast-track process to appease Brexit-backing Tories – almost four times the 58 ministers have acknowledged, it can be revealed.
One sets out child seatbelt rules, another requires chemicals and other hazards in toys to be identified, while a third requires up-to-date asbestos records, including in schools and hospitals.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) pointed to the danger of removing safety rules at work, which had helped cut annual fatalities from 495 in 1981 to 123 in 2021-22.
“We fear there would be a very quick race to the bottom on safety standards at work, at home and when travelling in between,” said Nathan Davies, RoSPA’s head of policy.