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Lord withdraws legal threat against The Mill

Sacha Lord has issued a lengthy statement this morning, following news that Arts Council England and GMCA were looking into a Covid funding application made by Primary Events Solutions.

The company, founded by Manchester’s night time economy advisor, Sacha Lord, has been at the centre of an investigation by Manchester hyperlocal publication, The Mill. Earlier this week it called on its 45k-strong readership to go through Primary Events Solutions’ application to the Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund in January 2021, to fact check it “line-by-line.”

On Wednesday Arts Council England stated that “in light of new information that has been directly brought to our attention this week, we will be conducting additional checks on the application from Primary Events Solutions.”

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority followed suit saying it “welcomed” Arts Council England’s decision and had set up its own “fact-finding exercise based on new information.”

Lord said that he would fully co-operate with “fact-finding” exercises by both organisations, adding “these allegations are all false and I reject them completely.”

On BBC Radio Manchester, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that the claims by The Mill would “be looked at properly,” but also added that there should be “some balance and recognition” of Lord’s impact on the city’s nightlife.

He added that there was a “sense of a bit of campaign that’s being launched” against him.

Lord, through his publicist, released the following statement, “which should be used in full without edit or selective quoting.”

Adding there would be no further comment on this matter.

“Between 16 and 22 May 2024, ‘The Mill’ published five articles and numerous social media posts that concern an application to the Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund made by the company, Primary Event Solutions Limited, of which I was one of the shareholders and directors.

In these articles, The Mill made a series of extremely serious allegations against me personally. The Mill has alleged that Primary Event Solutions Limited deliberately lied in its Culture Recovery Fund application, that I am a dishonest person, and that I have misused over £400,000 of public money.

These allegations are all false and I reject them completely.

I believe The Mill’s allegations are based on a misunderstanding as to the nature of the Culture Recovery Fund as well as the nature of Primary Event Solutions Limited’s business when it made that application.

As far as the nature of the Arts Council grant is concerned:

(i)         The intention of the Culture Recovery Fund was to provide support to organisations which were detrimentally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and to provide recovery measures to allow those organisations to become financially sustainable. The grant application was made in January 2021.

(ii)       As the Arts Council Application Form made clear on its very first page, the purpose of the grant was “to support organisations as they transition back to a viable and sustainable operating model during April-June 2021”. The Application Form went on to add that the fund was “intended to ensure that, by 30 June 2021, successful applicants are operating fully on a viable and sustainable basis”.

(iii)     In keeping with this, Primary Event Solutions Limited made it clear in its application that the ‘start date’ of the activities for which it would utilise the funds was 1 April 2021 and the ‘end date’ of such activities was 30 June 2021. Primary Event Solutions Limited also candidly stated in its application: “We are currently partially operating, with two clients and a reduced workforce. We will be working with some of the most significant events in the northern cultural calendar”.

(iv)      Accordingly, although the application was made in January 2021, its purpose was to support the future activities of Primary Event Solutions Limited and intended to enable that company to transition to a viable and sustainable operating model by 30 June 2021.

(v)       In summary, the grant application and the Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund were forward-looking in nature and not constrained by the historical activities of Primary Event Solutions Limited. For that reason, The Mill’s repeated insinuations that Primary Event Solutions Limited had historically functioned as a security company entirely miss the point.

(vi)      Furthermore, the Culture Recovery Fund was not limited to cultural organisations but also covered, in the words of the Arts Council, “organisations in the supply chain that enabled and supported the production of culturally significant work/events and/or work that contributed to providing cultural opportunity in England”. The fact that Primary Event Solutions Limited planned to provide security staff for cultural events as part of its offering in April-June 2021 did not make it ineligible for a grant under the Fund.

As to the nature of Primary Event Solutions Limited’s business at the time of its application, I wish to make the following points:

(i)         Diversification of the activities of the company, which was called Primary Security Limited until October 2020, was on the cards from at least July 2020, five months before the Arts Council application.

(ii)       In an email dated early July 2020, I had informed Mr Turnbull (a former director of the company) of these plans, stating that “Primary has not performed as it could have during lockdown”, “Many other security firms… have diversified into many other areas and seen other opportunities” and that “Myself and the other shareholders feel we need to move forward with a new infrastructure”.  Unfortunately, Mr Turnbull was not supportive of those plans and this was the main reason for his being asked to leave the company.

(iii)     During the Covid lockdowns, I knew of many businesses pivoting to new sectors to survive. This was something I actively encouraged other businesses to do and I wanted Primary Security Limited to do the same. It was in keeping with this ambition that, on 21 October 2020, Primary Security Limited changed its name to Primary Event Solutions Limited.

(iv)      Contrary to The Mill’s allegations, Primary Event Solutions Limited had committed to undertake, and had undertaken, a range of activities going beyond providing security in advance of its application. One example of this is the ‘United We Stream’ event which was organised in April 2020. ‘United We Stream’ functioned as an audio streaming platform during the Covid lockdown and brought people around the world to enjoy Greater Manchester’s art and culture. The event raised over £580,000 for charities across Greater Manchester. In connection with the platform, Primary Event Solutions sourced the venue (‘The Met’ in Bury), reached out to and arranged artists, marketed the event and ensured that it was organised safely with social distancing. Primary Event Solutions Limited returned to do a NYE Party at the same venue in December 2020. As head of our security department, Mark Turnbull was not involved in this project, prior to, or after his resignation in early July, and it is quite believable he would have no knowledge of the extent of our involvement in this pro-bono project.

(v)       Another example is Primary Event Solutions Limited’s informal merger of the business of Ugly Duckling Payroll LLP in October 2020. Ugly Duckling was engaged in a wide range of activities in the cultural sector including recruiting, placing and paying a wide range of event staff. In October 2020, the payroll of Ugly Duckling Payroll LLP was transferred to Primary Event Solutions Limited. Since then, Primary Event Solutions Limited has operated a centralised account system, a centralised recruiting system and a centralised booking system for all its staff, including those that transferred over to Primary Event Solutions Limited from Ugly Duckling. As a result, Primary Event Solutions Limited was able to offer – and had been offering – a wide range of services going beyond security at the time of its application.

The Mill alleges I have misused over £400,000 of public money. However, the utilisation of the Arts Council grant by Primary Event Solutions Limited was subject to two separate audits by the Arts Council. In both instances, the Arts Council concluded that there had been no misuse of any public money.

The Mill reported on 22 May that the Arts Council has begun additional checks into the allegations against Primary Event Solutions Limited. The Mill also reported that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has also launched its own process in relation to this matter. I welcome these steps, will fully cooperate with them and am confident that the outcomes will confirm that Primary Events Solutions Limited has not misled the Arts Council or the public, nor has it misused any public money. I would also encourage The Mill to allow the Arts Council the time and freedom to conduct these checks in its own timescales.

Following The Mill’s first article on 16 May 2024, in which very serious and damaging defamatory allegations were made, I instructed lawyers to commence legal proceedings against The Mill.

However, I have decided not to pursue legal action for the time being, but will review this position on an ongoing basis. I believe legal proceedings would be a major distraction from my work and family life and I also do not wish to stifle The Mill’s freedom of expression even though – in this instance – I reject their allegations in the strongest terms.

For now, I have therefore decided that I need to move on, prioritise my ongoing commitments and dedicate my time and resources to supporting the cultural life of Greater Manchester, as I have done for so many years before now.”

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