Edinburgh Festival director gets more time for 2015

Sir Jonathan Mills launches the 2013 International Festival at the Camera Obscura yesterday. Picture: Jane Barlow
Sir Jonathan Mills launches the 2013 International Festival at the Camera Obscura yesterday. Picture: Jane Barlow
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SIR Jonathan Mills revealed he had personally intervened to ensure his successor had more time in the job - after effectively being given just three months to plan his first festival in Edinburgh.

Fergus Linehan, who started work only weeks after being unveiled in the post in April, will have almost 18 months longer to finalise his debut programme.

Sir Jonathan also said the Festival’s financial situation was transformed from the one he had to work with in his first year – when it was hampered by debts of up to £1.8 million – after taking over from Sir Brian McMaster, who had been at the helm for 15 years. The Festival budget is now believed to be just over £10m – about half of which comes from the public purse.

Sir Jonathan said next year’s Festival was entirely his responsibility, with Mr Linehan already working on the 2015 event and those further in the future. He said: “The handover is really about him having more time to plan the 2015 Festival. It’s nothing to do with me. He’s working on it completely independent of me.

“It means the programming team here have an absolute certainty about who they are dealing with for 2015 and 2016. They have that now, rather than at the last minute. Fergus has been able to spend important and valuable time thinking about the framework of the festival and it’s given him a much better timeframe to plan it.

“I had effectively from October to January to programme my first Festival.

“I’ve suggested this was not ideal, not best practice and was highly risky, and that this Festival deserves better and we should plan for a longer lead time between directors. The board has accepted my recommendation and implemented it.”

“It’s not just better for Fergus. It’s better for everyone that works here that they can already talk about 2015 and 2016.”

Sir Jonathan said there was a “closer” and “clearer” relationship between the festival and its key funders - the city council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government - which mitigated the financial impact of “boom and bust cycles” with the event’s finances.

He added: “In those first few years we had to be very cautious about our budgeting. There was a debt of around £1.8 million to pay off, which was reduced to around £800,000 due to a grant from the Scottish Arts Council on the basis of a matched donation from a private fund.

“The situation is different now. We have no debts and we have a small reserve. We’ve determined a proportion of our turnover as an ideal reserve fund and are very close to that achieving that now.

“In monetary terms, our funding has been at a standstill over the last few years, and in terms of what it buys, it still pretty tight. But if we were still at the funding level of 2006 it would be impossible to do the festival we are doing now.

“We always have big ambitions. We sit down after we’ve identified them and start to work out how we can pay for it. We don’t start with what we can afford, we start with what we want to do. If you start with what you can afford, you are not aiming or, or in the right direction.

“The present and the future is very optimistic. The relationship with our funders is such that we are closer than we’ve ever been, clearer with each other than we’ve ever been and working towards best practice to mitigate against those sort of boom and bust cycles.

“We worked very hard to ensure our funding was improved and we achieved that. We did that on the basis that I was able to make the case to the council and the then Scottish Arts Council – not based on some arbitrary figure that we wanted to spend – but on the expectations of what the festival means financially, socially and in terms of reputation for the city itself.”


EIF director Sir Jonathan Mills in Fringe call

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