Edinburgh Festival funding slashed by city council

The Edinburgh International Festival is to lose nearly 10 per cent of its funding from the city council over the next two years under the biggest shake-up of support for arts and culture in modern times.

Organisers of the 72-year-old event, which generated £3.8 million worth of ticket sales in 2018, have warned it faces slipping into decline after a decade of continual cuts from the Edinburgh City Council.

Director Fergus Linehan suggested the Festival could even end completely if the council continued with its “salami slicing” strategy.

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The overhaul of how the council spends its £4.5 million culture budget, which has not been cut as part of the rethink, is set to have a major impact on some of Scotland’s leading arts organisations after they were either targeted for cuts or told to share resources in order to open up funding to other organisations and events.

Virgin Money Festival Fireworks, Edinburgh Castle from Heriots Cricket club. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Bosses running the Festival, King’s, Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres will have to collaborate for the first time on their programme to secure a share of a £1 million funding pot under plans, which will take effort in the spring of next year if they are approved by councillors next week.

The Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, the Scottish Book Trust, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Storytelling Forum have lost direct financial support and been ordered to work together under the banner of “Edinburgh’s Literary Quarter to get a share of £100,000.

A new £200,000 “flexible fund” is to be opened up to arts organisations across the city, including a new music industry task-force which will be created ahead of the redevelopment of the Ross Bandstand and Leith Theatre, and the creation of a new £45 million concert hall on St Andrew, the city’s first purpose-built venue for more than a century. The ring-fenced cash pot, which will go up to £300,000 in 2021, could also benefit events like Hidden Door and Leith Late.

Among those to lose out are the Collective Gallery, which has just moved to a new home on Calton Hill, the Glasgow-based Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Fiddle Festival, which is held in Edinburgh.

However the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which will be based in the new concert hall, is among those to secure extra funding. Others include the visual art, book and children’s festivals, and Edinburgh Printmakers, which recently unveiled a new home in Fountainbridge.

All those previously funded have had a 10 per cent cut imposed since 2016. But the EIF, which will have its grant cut by nnie per centto £1.9 million by 2021, said the longer trend meant it had lost half a million pounds worth of support - without accounting for inflation.

Mr Linehan said: “The big question for me is when is this going to stop? A decade ago the festival’s core funding from the council was £2.47 million, which is around £3 million in today’s terms.

“No one is saying it is ever going to stop. If anything this looks like an acceleration of what has happened over the last decade.

New Makar Jackie Kay (National Poet for Scotland) with her book Fiere at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. Pic: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

“We’re going back to levels of funding more than a decade ago when the festival nearly went bankrupt.”

He continued: “I just want to know what the plan is. Do you just keep cutting or is there a point at which the festival ends? In three years time will all roads just lead to a swamp? Is the only strategy to keep on salami slicing? If that is the case then the festival will end. “There has to be a proper discussion. What’s going to happen in three years’ time? Will there be another 10 per cent cut and another three years later?

“If we’d been bouncing along at the same level for the last decade and we had to take our medicine that would be different. But you can’t deteriorate a core funding base indefinitely. I’m not hearing anything to contrary to that.

“Is the brief of the council to wind down funding and manage the decline of the festival without actually saying that you’re doing it?”

Opening exhibitions in the Collective Gallery on Calton Hill

Donald Wilson, the city council’s culture convener, said; “Things have moved on in the 70 years since the festivals were established. “This is about the council looking now at exactly what we want for the city in terms of festivals and culture and making sure it is broad enough to take in everybody’s views and really interests.

“The council has made a commitment to widen and deepen participation and opportunities afford by the festivals and arts in the city.

The creation of a flexible fund which opens things up to people who have been excluded in the past is a way forward.”

Other arts organisations were notably more supportive of the council’s shake-up than the EIF.

Duncan Hendry, Chief Executive of Capital Theatres, which runs the Festival and King’s theatres, said: “We are in discussions with the City Council and the cultural organisations with which we have been grouped, about working together more cooperatively, creatively and efficiently. We view this as a constructive proposal which has the potential to deliver exciting collaborations.”

Mike Griffiths, executive director of the Royal Lyceum, said: “We look forward to working with the council and the other companies in our grouping to explore how greater partnership working, allied with the sustained investment promised, can support the city’s year-round theatre organisations to deliver on the ambitions of the council’s cultural plan for the city.”

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Ali Bowden, director of the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust, said: We’ve always worked very closely with other organisations and collaboration on activity and programmes is what we do each day.

“The council’s focus on a Literary Quarter grouping is entirely logical and reflects work already under development.”

Alistair Mackie, chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), said: “We’re extremely grateful for the long term support that the RSNO has received from Edinburgh City Council over many years.

“Whilst any loss of funds is challenging, we appreciate that there are also challenges facing the council. As Scotland’s national orchestra, we remain committed to providing great music-making for the citizens of Edinburgh.”

Cllr Wilson added: “While we recognise realigning our existing resources in new ways means change for some, it also allows opportunities for others.

“The aim is to nurture more new work and emerging artists and enable greater access to our funding programmes for previously unfunded groups.”



Edinburgh International Book Festival

2019-20: £46,154

2020-21: £50,000

Imaginate (Edinburgh International Children’s Festival)

2019-20: £73,452

2020-21: £100,000

Edinburgh Printmakers

2019-20: £9,999

2020-21: £20,000

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

2019-20: £41,238

2020-21: £50,000

Edinburgh Art Festival

2019-20: £9,177

2020-21: £20,000


Collective Gallery

2019-20: £5,588

2020-21: N/A

Edinburgh International Festival

2019-20: £2,126,808

2020-21: £2,026,000

Queen’s Hall

2019-20: £84,200

2020-21: £60,000

Festival Theatre and King’s Theatre

2019-20: £586,154

2020-21: Share of £1m

Royal Lyceum Theatre Company

2019-20: £328,830

2020-21: Share of £1m

Traverse Theatre


2020-21: Share of £1 m


2019-20: £41,238

2020-21: N/A

Scots Fiddle Festival

2019-20: £4,290

2020-21: N/A

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

2019-20: £113,861

2020-21: £100,000

Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust

2019-20: £29,462

2020-21: Share of £100,000

TRACS (Scottish Storytelling Forum)

2019-20: £31,200

2020-21: Share of £100,000

Pic Lisa Ferguson 24/04/2019 Shan Edwards - CHief Executive Edinburgh Printmakers Edinburgh Printmakers at Castle Mills - To mark the opening, a series of exhibitions and new commissions will be revealed including the ambitious large scale work by renowned printmaker Thomas Kilpper. His work The Politics of Heritage vs. the Heritage of Politics The opening of Edinburgh Printmakers at Castle Mills. The latest addition to Scotlands cultural landscape sees the transformation of the old North British Rubber Factory into Edinburgh Printmakers new home. The 2194m2 space incorporates a new printmaking studio, two gallery spaces, a series of studio spaces for creatives, a cafe, shop and a learning and workshop space as well as a host of facilities for creative practitioners. To mark the opening, a series of exhibitions and new commissions will be revealed including the ambitious large scale work by renowned printmaker Thomas Kilpper. His work The Politics of Heritage vs. the Heritage of Politics sees him car