£250,000 bill to save Battle of Bannockburn event

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop previews the new Bannockburn Visitor Centre. Picture: Donald MacLeodCulture secretary Fiona Hyslop previews the new Bannockburn Visitor Centre. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop previews the new Bannockburn Visitor Centre. Picture: Donald MacLeod
TOURISM chiefs are facing a bill of up to £250,000 to ensure scaled-back celebrations to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn can go ahead, The Scotsman can reveal.

The figure is VisitScotland’s share of a rescue plan drawn up after tourist chiefs agreed last month to take over responsibility for the event from the National Trust for Scotland.

The NTS had expected to pay around £500,000 for the three-day event before it withdrew its support.

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Insiders said NTS had “taken fright” over the prospects of recouping its money via ticket sales due to the impact of Britain’s major Armed Forces Day celebration, which is being held on the same weekend in Stirling in a surprise announcement by the Ministry of Defence once the Bannockburn event had been finalised.

VisitScotland said there was no question of the battlefield event being cancelled, despite only 1,000 tickets having been sold when the tourism body officially took charge of “Bannockburn Live” last month.

The overall budget for the celebrations has now been cut by a third.

The senior official now responsible for the event – one of the expected highlights of the second Year of Homecoming – said it was proceeding on “realistic visitor projections” and insisted it was still expected to break even.

The trust began promoting the event last June, after Bannockburn Live’s producers Unique Events were brought on board and £400,000 of public funding was agreed with the Scottish Government, EventScotland and Creative Scotland.

However, a major rethink was ordered after it emerged the festival would clash with the UK government’s annual military showpiece, which is being held in Stirling for the first time.

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The Bannockburn Live ticket capacity has been slashed from 45,000 to just 20,000 while the final day, Monday, 1 July, has been completely dropped from the event. But ticket prices have remained at the same level, with adult packages ranging from £22 to £82.50 depending on whether entry to a new battlefield visitor centre is included. Family tickets are £60, for two adults and two children.

Caroline Packman, Homecoming 2014 project director at VisitScotland, said the estimated costs of staging the event had been reduced from almost £950,000 to around £650,000 because of changes ordered earlier this month.

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The £400,000 of public funding pledged remains intact, despite the reduced site capacity and the final day being axed. The remainder of the cost will be covered by VisitScotland, which hopes to recoup the money from ticket sales.

Ms Packman said: “Under the previous organisational arrangements, the difference was to be made up by projected ticket income, as well as income from food and drink and retail outlets at the event.

“The National Trust of Scotland were not actually providing direct funding for the event, but £500,000 was their level of risk on the ticket income. Previously, the event required 33,000 visitors to break even. Had it attracted fewer than that, NTS would have been at risk.

“Now the event has moved over to VisitScotland, the public sector investment remains the same but because we have reconfigured the event and revised visitor projections, the number of visitors we require to break even is 15,000.”

VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay added: “NTS has made no secret that when they realised Armed Forces Day was being organised for the same weekend as Bannockburn Live, it changed the whole dynamic.”

A spokesman for NTS said: “As part of the original plan for Bannockburn Live, we were anticipating covering £500,000 of event costs through the sale of tickets and concessions and this was regarded as a realistic income target.

“The major marketing and promotional efforts were always scheduled to begin in the new year and would have been carried on intensively right up until the event’s opening.”