'Pure greed' of 800% rise in venue fees

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THE director of a leading independent Fringe venue accused Edinburgh City Council yesterday of "pure greed" in crippling small Festival operators with a huge rise in theatre licence fees.

Julian Caddy, co-director of Sweet Entertainments, a rising player on the Fringe, said fees had risen a staggering 800 per cent in the past three years.

His broadside against the "madness" of the charges was backed by several other venue operators, who cited cases of disproportionate fees for Fringe spaces with tiny audiences.

Though the city council could not confirm Mr Caddy's figures, a Fringe spokesman said they were broadly correct.

The Festival plans to broach the "dramatic rise" with the council after this year's Fringe.

"It's not a cost that can be easily absorbed," the spokesman said.

Mr Caddy – whose Sweet operation is this year running five venues hosting about 80 shows – said: "There is no comparison anywhere else across the UK and there's absolutely no reason for such an increase. It smacks of pure greed, given that the council has a complete monopoly."

He said smaller venues – for which a licence fee was a bigger share of running costs than the largest operators – risked being pushed out of Edinburgh.

"Biting the hand that feeds you is pure madness," he said.

The city council's licensing department charges from 824 for a new or temporary theatre space for up to 200 people, rising to 1,236 for up to 1,000 people and 2,472 for up to 5,000.

Figures cited by Mr Caddy yesterday showed Glasgow charging a fifth of these fees for spaces up to 5,000 people and English cities about an eighth.

Edinburgh City Council insists it does not make a profit on its licensing fees. Councillor Steve Cardownie, the festivals and events champion, said yesterday: "The charges are there to cover our costs in licensing venues, and they are not set to make a profit … We do what we can to make it easy for the smaller-scale productions."

However, Laura Mackenzie-Stuart, of Fringe operator Universal Arts, and representing the Association of Independent Venue Producers, said four venues had been put out of business this year by fee increases.

"It's a hazardous path. If this trend continues, venue producers will inevitably relocate to other, cheaper cities," she said.

Hartley Kemp, artistic director of C Venues, said Edinburgh's costs were higher than any UK city, adding: "We are doing a single production in a site-specific venue for 30 audience members twice daily over a seven-day period, with a licence cost of 824. That's before rental, technical, publicity and other costs. There is no way this show can break even."

The Pleasance director, Anthony Alderson, said the system discriminated against smaller venues because the licence is per postal address.

He added: "In Montreal, where they host the Montreal Comedy Festival, they put $35 million (17m] from the city into the infrastructure of that festival."