STIRLING Council has been urged to withhold a licence for the troubled Doune The Rabbit Hole festival, with trade unions warning it would be “morally indefensible” for the local authority to allow it to go ahead.

Bectu, the media and entertainment union, claim the amount of money still owed to artists, technicians and suppliers from last year’s event is around £800,000.

They and the Musicians’ Union are due to meet with the council’s legal department on Thursday.

The intervention comes as Creative Scotland “review” a £60,000 grant awarded to the festival in May last year.

Last month, we told how the company behind the event, Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival Ltd, announced that they were entering liquidation after suffering “huge financial difficulty.”

In a statement, organisers said the festival would return in July under the management of Festival Beverage and Property Services Ltd, who operated the festival in 2018 and 2019.

According to Companies House, Doune The Rabbit Hole Ltd is run by Jamie Murray, while Festival Beverage and Property Services Ltd is run by his father, Craig Murray, a blogger and former diplomat.

Speaking to The Herald just before Christmas, Craig Murray blamed the money problems on the pandemic. He said the festival’s cancellations in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid had resulted in losses of around £500,000.

In a bid to make that money back in 2022, the organisers, after taking advice, decided to go “bigger” in a bid to sell more tickets.

But they only sold 6,000 tickets, far short of the 12,000 expected to sell.

READ MORE: 'I'm not a crook' Craig Murray speaks out over Doune The Rabbit Hole pay row

Mr Murray said the plan was to run the festival in 2023 to make enough money to pay off the debts.

However, Paul McManus from Bectu told The Herald this would be “unconscionable.” He said it would be a “gamble” for anyone to agree to take part in this year’s event.

He said: “With no safeguards in place, we’re just heading for another fiasco with more mounting debts. I think the local authority, in this case Stirling, should be saying, we’re not allowing anything to go ahead unless we’ve got cast iron guarantees that people will get paid.”

Mr McManus said the organisers had not yet agreed to their requests for an urgent meeting to discuss the plans.

READ MORE: Unions issue warnings over Doune the Rabbit Hole

Caroline Sewell​ from the Musicians’ Union said: “Having seen the list of creditors, it’s impossible to see how a festival with such a financial history could possibly generate enough in profit to not only clear historical debt but also pay another workforce of musicians, tech and suppliers to deliver an event in 2023.”

Last year, the festival was awarded £60,000 from Creative Scotland to add a new stage at the festival with “emerging acts, participation opportunities, visual art and aerial circus performances from Scottish artists and creative groups.”

A number of disabled groups were involved. They were only paid earlier this month, prompting some concern from the national arts agency. 

A Creative Scotland spokesperson said the grant - which has not yet been paid in full - "did not relate to the general support for the whole festival where many performers and suppliers were not paid." 

They added: "This award is currently under review through Creative Scotland’s grant monitoring processes.”

A spokesperson for Stirling Council said there had not yet been an application to hold an event this year, but that it would ultimately be up to councillors sitting on the Planning and Regulation Panel to decide whether to grant a licence.

“For an event of this nature, the Council would convene a Safety Advisory Group comprised of representatives from council services such as Environmental Health, Licensing and Building Control. 

"Representatives from statutory consultees such as Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service would also attend. 

"The purpose of the group is to meet with the organisers to discuss their proposals and to come to agreement on various considerations which all impact upon whether a safe event can be held. 

“The outcome of these meetings helps to inform the decision on whether a licence is granted or not."

Tickets are on sale, though no details of the lineup have been revealed. 

A spokesperson from Doune The Rabbit Hole told The Herald: "We are in contact with BECTU and Stirling Council as key stakeholders in the event and neither has mentioned or invited us to any such meeting. We are planning for the festival to go ahead on 21-23rd July."