The official celebrations to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn have been slashed in the wake of poor ticket sales and an unexpected clash with the UK government’s annual military showpiece.
With just under six months to go until the landmark date, organisers have confirmed the event - a centrepiece of the second “Year of Homecoming” campaign - has been cut from three days to two.
And a maximum of just 20,000 members of the public will be able to attend, compared to the 45,000 originally envisaged when “Bannockburn Live” was launched last summer.
The ticketed event has already been pledged £400,000 in public funding and this package is understood to have been kept in place despite the scaling-back of the celebrations.
It will now be run by VisitScotland, despite the body having no previous experience of major event management.
It will include the biggest battle re-enactment staged in Scotland, a series of themed medieval villages, food and drink showcases, a clan gathering, live music, debates and children’s activities.
Adult tickets for Bannockburn Live, which will now be held on 28 and 29 June, cost between £22.50 and £82.50 to attend. However a maximum of just 300 VIP ticket-buyers per day will be able to see inside the new £9 million visitor centre that is being built at the battlefield, on the outskirts of Stirling.
In a bid to persuade more people to buy tickets for the event, which is being held several days after the actual anniversary, the programme of entertainment is to run two hours later than planned and will now finish at 7pm. Children under five years of age will also now get free entry.
Only 1000 tickets for the Bannockburn event had been sold in advance under the promotional campaign run by the battlefield’s owners, the National Trust of Scotland, which has now passed overall responsibility for the event to VisitScotland, which is running the £6 million Homecoming campaign on behalf of the Scottish Government.
Producers Unique Events have not announced any acts yet, despite being brought in to run the event in the spring of last year.
But it is hoped the surprise changes, understood to have been made since Chrismas, will persuade more people to attend the event on the opening day, on the Saturday when it clashes with the UK’s main Armed Forces Day celebrations in Stirling, which were announced by the MoD in August, to the surprise of NTS and VisitScotland. A major parade of pipers is also being staged through Stirling on the Friday night.
The Bannockburn funding package - put together after NTS raised concerns with MSPs about being left with a hefty bill from the event - includes £150,000 from the Scottish Government, £200,000 from VisitScotland and its events agency EventScotland, and £50,000 from arts agency Creative Scotland.
Its price tag is almost as hefty as the one for the Homecoming “Gathering” from five years ago, which was said to have delivered a return of £10.4 million from an initial public sector investment of £490,000. But the scaling back of the Bannockburn festival means the attendance and economic benefit will now be significantly less than the 2009 clan gathering.
The event was run by a private firm, which suffered a dramatic financial collapse months after the event due to poorer than expected ticket sales.
However the official attendance figure from the two-day event in Edinburgh, which ended up making a loss of around £600,000, was still more than 47,000.
VisitScotland has agreed to financially underwrite the Bannockburn event and ensure all private sector suppliers are paid in advance. Some 103 creditors were left out of pocket to the tune of almost £340,000 from The Gathering, which was staged in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park in July 2009. Six public sector organisations - including the Scottish Government, Historic Scotland, Lothian and Borders Police and the Scottish Ambulance Service - were forced to write off almost £400,000 of unpaid bills from the event, which the Prince of Wales attended.
A spokeswoman for VisitScotland insisted no extra funding had been allocated to the Bannockburn event, which would be “absorbed into the workloads” of its own staff and those at EventScotland.
She added: “Changes to the operations of the event have been made following full discussions to ensure the event breaks even. We are now relying less on ticket income and that means less risk.”
A spokeswoman for NTS said: “Obviously we are still playing a role in the event, but we no longer have financial responsibility and there will be no resource implications for the trust, which was going to be reliant on ticket sales to make up its costs under the previous arrangements.”
Stirling’s provost Mike Robbins said: “As part of Stirling’s most exciting weekend ever, we’re looking forward to recognising and celebrating the contribution made by our armed forces with spectacular displays and activities for all the family. It will be a great day out, and a truly fitting tribute to the men and women, past and present, of the army, navy and air force.
“With this, and all the other events taking place over the weekend, there will be something for everyone, so we’re getting ready to welcome thousands of visitors to Stirling.”