Leader comment: We must be cautious about moving our precious Festival

Street performers entertain the crowds at the Mound on the opening day of this years Festival Fringe. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Street performers entertain the crowds at the Mound on the opening day of this years Festival Fringe. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Donald Wilson is a man worth listening to. As Lord Provost of Edinburgh he was a magnificent ambassador for Scotland’s capital. Now he is the city’s culture chief. He is also a former teacher.

Councillor Wilson today argues that if we are to expand the appeal of Edinburgh’s Festivals then we must strive to involve parts of the city which the festival rarely touches. Few would argue with that.

More controversially, he has also re-opened the debate on when the Festival should begin and end.

For many years, the Edinburgh International Festival started a week later than the Edinburgh Fringe and it was only under the leadership of current EIF director Fergus Linehan that the two came into sync.

Now, Mr Wilson says a serious debate is required about bringing our festivals forward by a week or two, to start in July.

This would ensure that the final festival week remains within the Scottish school holidays to maximise attendance. English school holidays finish later.

Unsurprisingly, there would resistance from some to another date change, particularly as the EIF has only recently moved.

There is no doubt that there has been a growth in the number of families attending the festival. Facilities have improved and there has been a marked increased in the number of shows aimed at a family audience.

Anecdotally, there has also been a slight drop-off in ticket sales during the last week of the Festival. A debate therefore is valid. But it must be based on firm evidence.

Is there really a ticket drop-off? And if so, is it caused by schools going back? Or perhaps something else? What would the downside be to moving the Festival start to July? The event is firmly associated with August. And if there is a move would there be broad agreement? If the Fringe moved its dates it would then be out of sync with the international festival, the book festival and so on.

Proper research is required and caution must be the watchword here.

Over 70 years our festivals have seen off recessions, rising costs and growing competition. It is right that we continue to question and look to move forward. But facts and consensus are required before action.