Funds shake-up looms for Edinburgh’s arts sector

Cuts may force changes to programming for Edinburgh's festivals, including the EIF. Photograph: Jane Barlow
Cuts may force changes to programming for Edinburgh's festivals, including the EIF. Photograph: Jane Barlow
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DOZENS of Edinburgh’s flagship events and arts organisations are facing a dramatic overhaul in their funding from the city council – even though one in four of them have been found to be at financial risk.

Festivals, theatres, art galleries, concert halls and literary bodies may be stripped of long-term funding or find current deals dramatically cut ­under a shake-up proposed by the local authority as it grapples with a spending squeeze.

Dozens of groups have already been warned to brace themselves for a 10 per cent cut over the next four years – while a recent “financial health check” carried out on all those currently supported found many are at risk of going bankrupt or defaulting on financial obligations.

The council has suggested it will take a “careful approach” to overhauling current funding arrangements by avoiding a “blanket percentage reduction” in favour of targeted cuts.

Officials will spend six months carrying out “detailed assessments” of all current recipients and discussing “alternative funding relationships” before making new grant recommendations in the spring.

A report for the culture committee states: “This would involve considering reductions in support to those organisations which are financially capable of sustaining a reduction in their level of funding.”

It is not yet clear if the city’s festivals, which are estimated to be worth more than £260 million to the economy, will be particularly targeted. A major study into their long-term ­future, published in May, included a warning that Edinburgh faces “relegation from the premier division” of world-class programming if finances are not maintained.

The review by the council – which has a £5.2 million arts funding pot at present – has emerged months after a separate vision for the future of culture in Edinburgh called for more help to be offered to the grassroots scene.

The “Edinburgh Cultural Promise” was drawn up following the city’s biggest survey of artists, venue operators, promoters and producers.

That report stated: “It was felt strongly that [they] should not have to brand themselves as part of a festival to receive investment and support. It should be made financially easier for local presenters and producers to participate in the festivals, but the work of those who actively avoid this period should not be deemed inferior or less valued by the city.”

The council has said its application process for cultural funding should be opened up “in the interests of fairness and transparency”. It wants groups and organisations to share resources and work together on major projects to secure funding from next spring.

It is planning to set up a new “open project fund”, which will be open to applications throughout the year, similar to one created by arts agency Creative Scotland. The council hopes to secure backing for the new pot – which will be open to organisations and individual artists – from the public and private sector.

The council has 36 annual agreements in place with some of Edinburgh’s best-known arts organisations, including the Traverse and Royal Lyceum theatres, the Queen’s Hall, Dance Base, and the Collective and Stills galleries.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Poetry Library and Scottish Book Trust are among the national organisations which get funding at present. The council is also one of the major backers of the Edinburgh International Festival, the Mela, and the science, jazz, film and book festivals.

The authority has discovered Creative Scotland has been inundated with 336 applications, worth £9 million, from Edinburgh since last November, with 45 per cent from organisations. Of these, just three per cent have council backing.

Richard Lewis, the council’s culture leader, said: “We want to make sure our support is as effective as it can be. We’re proposing a renewed process for handling applications, including the creation of a new open fund to support emerging talent. Collaborative working between Edinburgh’s organisations and with the council would be at the heart of this approach. Promoting stronger partnerships is something the sector has called for.”

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “We’re able to fund around a third of the applications we receive through our open project funding route. We therefore welcome all other sorts of support from local authorities, trusts, private donors and sponsors.”

Pay check: what the organisations currently get

Dance Base - £49,099

Edinburgh International Book Festival - £51,841

Edinburgh International Festival - £2,388,867

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival - £127,891

Edinburgh Mela - £76,679

Festival Fringe Society - £96,530

Queen’s Hall - £94,575

Royal Lyceum Theatre - £369,347

Royal Scottish National Orchestra - £46,320

Scottish Chamber Orchestra - £46,320

Stills Gallery - £18,202

Traverse Theatre - £45,430

Unesco World City of Literature Trust - £33,101