The Government’s £120 million Unboxed festival failed to hit audience engagement and awareness targets according to a report by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO conducted the report on the value for money generated by the free to attend programme of events after a DCMS Committee report warned that Unboxed had proven an “irresponsible use of public money”. It was also reported that the event series had been attended 240,000 people, falling well short of the 66 million target.

The NAO concluded that the project was delivered on time and is forecast to be on budget. It said that Unboxed operator Festival 2022 reported last month that 18.1 million people had engaged with the festival but the NAO did not examine as part of its investigation how audience engagement is recorded and monitored.

In a statement the NAO said, “According to Festival 2022 Ltd’s figures, as at November this year, the festival as a whole had met its audience targets set earlier in 2022. However, the total of these project targets was lower than the audience engagement figures modelled by DCMS in 2021 when it approved the business case for the festival.

Unboxed executive director Phil Batty said the project engaged an audience of more than 18 million across Britain, and saw 6,000 jobs and paid opportunities created: “As the NAO report sets out, the formal audience target we as Unboxed set and agreed with Government was 9 million and we delivered nearly double that figure. As a comparison to similar programmes this is a major achievement and has been delivered by a huge cross-section of cultural organisations and businesses from across the events industry.”

Festival 2022 Ltd has commissioned an evaluation of the festival and will report in early 2023. The NAO said the evaluation should be published “in the interests of transparency” and include information to allow DCMS and Festival 2022 Ltd to fully understand the volume and nature of participation for each project alongside the final cost.

It said the evaluation should also “identify lessons for the future from the experience of how projects have performed against their targets, and about the importance of agreeing clear objectives and setting performance targets early enough in any similar future programme’s lifecycle.”

In response to the report Batty said, “Unboxed responded to a clear brief for a UK-wide festival and presented live events in 107 towns, cities, and villages – many under-served by major cultural investment – and commissioned world-class content for digital and broadcast audiences.”