Edinburgh warned to stabilise funding of festivals

Faith Liddell had a stark warning over festival funding levels. Picture: TSPL
Faith Liddell had a stark warning over festival funding levels. Picture: TSPL
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THE figurehead of Edinburgh’s festivals has warned that they will need more help ahead of celebrations to mark their landmark 70th anniversary.

Faith Liddell, the outgoing director of Festivals Edinburgh, has urged the capital’s councillors to ensure that their funding is stabilised in the run-up to 2017 to ensure the city remains a world-leading destination.

We will need flexibility, innovation and support

Faith Liddell

Pointing out that other festivals were boasting that they had “no concerns” about levels of investment, she pleaded with the authority to maintain funding levels in the short term.

The city council has agreed to an annual “health check” on Edinburgh’s flagship cultural extravaganzas and the city’s infrastructure to ensure it stays one step ahead of its main overseas rivals and monitors possible signs of decline.

City culture leader Richard Lewis said the move was aimed at ensuring proper joined-up thinking for the first time over the festivals, which are worth an estimated £261 million to the economy.

While ticket sales across the festivals have soared this summer, there are fears that funding deals worth more than £4m a year from the council may be cut in the face of looming spending cuts.

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But Ms Liddell said the festivals needed help to find alternative sources of funding, which could command widespread support in the business community, as well as tackle long-standing issues like the high cost of accommodation.

Ms Liddell was addressing the council’s culture committee over a major new report on the future of the city’s festivals which warn that Edinburgh faced losing its “premier division” status if current levels of investment could not be maintained.

Consultants behind the “Thundering Hooves” report – which they described as “a spur to action” – said up to £10m a year may need to be found over the next decade if public funding deals ebb away.

Ms Liddell said: “At the moment, we have 25,000 artists in the city, but also 1,000 accredited media and another 1,000 producers and buyers. There’s a rich eco-system and marketplace out there.

“This report found the city is still seen as the leader. But it also says that’s because we’ve worked hard and worked together to ensure that threats were transformed into opportunities.

“All of our festivals have been very innovative in looking at how we change our business models and how we invest. But we need to continue to innovate and encourage others to innovate. We understand we are in challenging times. We completely acknowledge that. We are happy to work and respond to that.

“But we need help to maintain, as much as possibly can, a funding base as we develop those and we need help in order to develop new and innovative models of funding. One of the interesting things is that a number of other cities say they simply have no concerns over investment. We operate on a different model and understand that but we will need flexibility, innovation and support.”

Ms Liddell, who steps down this year, said there were huge opportunities to develop the Edinburgh Festival into a “global digital brand,” as well as a cultural one, and underline the standing of the city’s events in 2017.

She added: “We really do regard the 70th anniversary of the festivals as a moment where we can, of course, mark their beginnings, and the global importance of that, but also define what a great festival city can be now and what our role is in the contemporary world in 2017. We think this is a moment where the focus can be on us and what we do from this city.

“The report emphasises that we need to become a global digital brand as well as a global cultural brand. There are very few brands in the world that have the means to crank themselves up into that position. We truly believe that we can do that but there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”