Council talks on Mela festival future amid police probe

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Desi Bravehearts perform at last year's Mela. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The Desi Bravehearts perform at last year's Mela. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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THE future of the Mela festival will be discussed by councillors today amid police investigations into alleged financial irregularities.

Funding for the annual multicultural programme is already on hold after chief executive Chris Purnell quit suddenly in March, citing a “total breakdown of trust”.

It is understood the city council has now offered the Mela a £30,000 grant – less than half the amount it would normally give – but on condition that all the board members resign and a council officer is appointed to oversee the election of a new board.

Tory councillor Jason Rust, who has tabled a string of questions about the festival for today’s full council meeting, said this year’s Mela – due to open on August 27 – was now in doubt because of the uncertainty over funding.

He said: “This ought to be a celebration of the 21st year of the Edinburgh Mela and yet we are in a situation whereby we do not know if it will in fact be taking place.

“We need to understand the council’s stance and if there are issues regarding grant award these need to be made public and subject to thorough investigation.

“At present there seems to be a lack of transparency and we need to know how our relationship as a council stands with one of Edinburgh’s key festivals.

“What should be Scotland’s foremost celebration of cultural diversity is at present in limbo. If governance and accountability are an issue then we need to know what type of deals are being authorised.”

The Mela receives around £300,000 a year in public funding – from the council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government, via its Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund. But this year’s Expo cash is on hold and Creative Scotland has yet to receive an application this year.

It is understood the Mela board is seeking sponsorship to make sure this year’s event can go ahead.

When Mr Purnell quit he claimed some board members had displayed a “reckless disregard” for the organisation’s own rules.

He alleged staff had been “subjected to open hostility, accused of disrespect and insulting board members simply for conducting due diligence in the course of their duties”. And he warned of a growing “funding crisis”.

City culture and sport convener Richard Lewis is due to answer questions on the decision to put funding for the Mela on hold, what talks have taken place and council involvement with the festival at today’s council meeting. A council spokesman said: “The council remains in discussion with the Edinburgh Mela Board. Council funding for the 2016 event is yet to be confirmed.”

Shami Khan, chair of the Mela board, declined to comment.

A police spokesman said: “We have been made aware of claims relating to financial irregularities involving an individual.

“As this is forming part on an ongoing inquiry, which includes establishing whether a crime has been committed, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com