Edinburgh festival budgets ringfenced from cutbacks

Council leaders in Edinburgh have vowed to protect their funding of the city’s money-spinning festivals, despite having to make £36 million budget cuts over the next few months.

Festivals can continue to plan shows such as Bianco. Picture: Jane Barlow

Councillors said the festivals were being prioritised because of their importance to the city’s economy and that cutbacks would have been a “slap in the face” after a record-breaking summer in the capital. City culture leader Richard Lewis insisted the funding was “a price worth paying” to ensure Edinburgh’s reputation as a major cultural capital remained intact, in the face of competition from events like the Manchester International Festival.

Details of the freeze have been revealed six months ahead of the council’s annual budget meeting, effectively allowing the festivals to plan well ahead.

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Year-round venues such as the Traverse, the Royal Lyceum, the Queen’s Hall and Dance Base have also escaped any funding cuts. However, managers of the city’s major cultural venues, including the Usher Hall and the Assembly Rooms, have been told they must generate more money from events to help shore up the council’s coffers.

The city council puts £3.2m into the capital’s summer festivals, with a separate £1.3m subsidy for the winter festivals. Other funding comes from Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government. Extra funding is being made available under the Scottish Government’s year-long Homecoming campaign.

The most recent impact study, published in 2011, found Edinburgh’s 12-month programme of festivals was worth at least £260m to the economy. The Fringe is worth more than £140m, with the three-day Hogmanay festival thought to generate at least £30m.

Mr Lewis said: “Our funding for culture and sport is around £27.9m, but that only represents 2.4 per cent of the overall budget, a tiny amount.

“We have to consider the social impact of the festivals, the direct financial and strategic impact of them, and the thousands of people who depend upon them. Even leaving aside the whole argument about art for art’s sake, they have a huge financial impact. I’d actually like to be in a position to increase the funding for the festivals.”

It emerged this month that the council is trying to make cuts of about 3 per cent across various services.

Mr Lewis conceded there had been “passionate discussions” behind the scenes, but said festival cutbacks had been ruled out on a point of principle due to the performance of the events and the way they had helped shield the city from the impact of the downturn in recent years.

He added: “There was a lot of controversy about this. Other departments were taking the attitude that everyone has to take a share, but there’s a danger when you’re handling budgets that you can obsess about the spending side of things and not the income side.”

Steve Cardownie, the city council’s festivals and events champion, added: “The festivals are one of the key economic drivers of the city and we feel it would send out the wrong message entirely if they were to have their funding cut.

“The council has inherited a legacy with the festivals going right back to 1947 and there is a duty on us to protect that.”