Edinburgh’s £1.5 billion tourism industry will be placed in “danger” and the city left “vulnerable” to economic decline if the body responsible for selling the city to the world loses the bulk of its funding, councillors have been told.
Marketing Edinburgh’s chief executive has warned “critical pipelines” for the city’s future prosperity were at risk if a proposed 89 per cent cut for the council-funded company over the next two years was approved.
Writing to every city councillor, John Donnelly said the city faced becoming “inward-looking and insular” if the cuts to his £890,000 budget went ahead, warning they would lead to the “demise” of Marketing Edinburgh.
Mr Donnelly, who was appointed five years ago to lead the-then fledgling body, also warned the city’s efforts to attract inward investment, business conferences and film productions would be “severely compromised” if the cuts went ahead next month.
According to the most recent figures, around 4.26 million people visited the city each year, up from 3.27 million in 2010, while the industry supports more than 35,000 jobs.
Mr Donnelly said: “Without a body that unites public and private sectors in the city’s promotion and economic development, we’ll severely compromise the city’s ability to attract talent, conferences, business and visitors – while our ability to talk to those who live and work in the city, as consumers, will cease.
“These are all critical pipelines to a successful future. We sever them at our peril. With the uncertainty currently faced by the UK, we should be doing everything in our power to safeguard our economic future, rather than leaving it vulnerable. The question that must be asked is not simply what the city can afford, but also what it can’t afford to lose.
“Without Marketing Edinburgh, a dangerous gap would exist. Our demise would see Edinburgh take a significant backwards step.
“It’s always been an innovative, progressive and enlightening city and it will pay a heavy price, at both an international and local level, if it is forced into becoming inward-looking and insular, which could be the result of these cuts. We believe there has to be another way.”
Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said it seemed “illogical to put such severe cuts on such an important agency.”
He added: “The city’s visitor and tourism industry is fundamentally crucial to the economic vitality of Edinburgh and Marketing Edinburgh have made significant progress in recent years across a whole number of projects and campaigns that have contributed hugely to this.
“At a time when the city’s visitor numbers are growing both for private and business tourism and the attractiveness of Edinburgh as a film venue has never been higher, and with our competitor cities investing heavily in their direct marketing organisations the city cannot stand still.
“We need to press forward and be both proactive and ambitious in attracting visitors to our city.
“As a partially publically funded organisation no one would expect Marketing Edinburgh to be immune from some reduction but the scale and severity of the proposals are damaging in the extreme.
“If an alternative model could be found to aid the council’s budget issues whilst maintaining and expanding its work this would be welcomed by partners across the city, including Essential Edinburgh.”
Marketing Edinburgh was launched in 2011 by the city council, which earmarked £1.22 million to get the organisation off the ground. It was meant to generate the bulk of its income from the private sector within a few years, but the council was still the majority funder until 2016-17, when its grant was cut to £918,000. Last year, when its grant was cut again to £890,000, Marketing Edinburgh generated £1.12 million from the private sector.
A council spokeswoman said: “The reality is we need to make an unprecedented number of savings.
“The best way to do this is by prioritising our core services, generating greater income and setting a fair, balanced budget which promotes inclusivity and protects the most vulnerable in society. This means we have to make tough choices.”