THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe launches this Thursday, and no-one can mistake the air of depleted enthusiasm around every bus stop as citizens look forward to August and avoiding central Edinburgh as if the cobbled streets were awash with rotting halibut.
Yet the most curmudgeonly of Edinburghers knows that the EFF is hugely important to our economy, and anyone can tell you that Edinburgh is still important to a worldwide – often whining, but occasionally brilliant – community of artists and performers.
The most important word in the phrase Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the word Edinburgh. While there are a growing number of festivals and even fringes all over the world, artists and performers talk of going to Edinburgh, of doing Edinburgh.
To ensure the continued benefit to Edinburgh of the EFF and the army of performers and audiences who seek it out annually, care must be taken that costs do not continue to escalate in a manner which deters both attendance and – just as importantly – innovation among those performing. Higher costs tend to make people play safe, and playing safe is not sufficient to sustain the levels of excitement the EFF needs. Where does that money go? A large number of Edinburgh folks become mini-Donald Trumps when it comes to renting out their accommodation. But that doesn't account for all of the increasingly high cost of putting on a show in Edinburgh. Most of the rest goes on venue costs.
This year there is a rolling hullabaloo because the EFF's four largest venues have decided the Fringe is not sufficient to meet their commercial goals, and that what is required is a separate Edinburgh Comedy Festival.
Surprisingly, sponsors have not fallen over themselves to embrace a concept which seems only to have a commercial goal and no definable artistic or cultural merit. Sponsors might also be wary of getting involved with a property which has already attracted a fair amount of derision from comedians. Comedians are not shy when it comes to making their opinions of companies heard.
The concept of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival is about creating a definable brand that can leverage money from all manner of avenues, including sponsors.
Edinburgh itself is already a brand and should be using its muscle to make sure that it is getting its fair dues. Not only is Edinburgh already a brand, it also owns or controls a lot of what currently passes for venue space at the EFF.
It's vital that we are getting as much as possible out of city resources, and in a manner that sustains the Fringe itself. Edinburgh owns all the streets, many of the rooms and spaces and a huge number of potential locations for future expansion. Why should those valuable resources be turned over to external – far more often than not, non-Edinburgh companies – to make money? Would it not be better to ensure that as much as possible of the significant revenues of the Fringe stayed within Edinburgh?
There is no suggestion that Edinburgh civil servants take on the management of EFF venues. For all that they are a lovely bunch, the annals of civic history are not replete with tales of local bureaucracy acting with fleet of foot and quickness of thought when it comes to the profitable management of resources.
But it need not be civil servants or – the horror, the horror – councillors themselves who get involved with such management. An arms-length management company could easily ensure that the facilities currently being run by profit-motivated-external companies are run to maximise income for Edinburgh and minimise costs to performers, thus squaring an increasingly unfair circle. By taking out a layer of venue administration, costs to performers could be kept down to the benefit of encouraging the originality and innovation that is the true lifeblood of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
A family affair
All the talk of a Scottish Mafia that is running Westminster is fantastic stuff. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but if we had a jock Mafia running things, wouldn't that mean that Scotland would be making out like bandits with the UK's resources? We'd all be driving Lexuses (Lexii?).
If there really is a Scottish Mafia, where exactly is all the payola and protection money going?
It would be great if there was a Scottish Mafia running the British parliament. Sadly, it appears a delusion on the part of Labour politicians who are incapable of realising that they've run out of scapegoats.
Congratulations to the West Coast family who took to the Clyde in a toy dinghy. Only in Scotland would their devil-may-care spirit be mocked.
This woman and her three children – challenging the high seas without lifejackets or indeed a paddle – are true adventurers. If it hadn't been for the pesky Coastguard stopping them, who know what glory might have been theirs.