Edinburgh festivals receive nothing from £15m pledge

Nicola Sturgeon, with Sorcha Carey, chair of Festivals Edinburgh, and Adam McVey, leader of City of Edinburgh Council, announced the funding last year.
Nicola Sturgeon, with Sorcha Carey, chair of Festivals Edinburgh, and Adam McVey, leader of City of Edinburgh Council, announced the funding last year.
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A new multi-million funding pot set up by the Scottish Government and city council leaders to safeguard the future of Edinburgh’s festivals has come under fire after it emerged none of this summer’s events will be benefiting.

A £15 million deal was announced on the final weekend of the Edinburgh International Festival last year by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after months of behind-the-scenes talks.

An extra £3m a year was supposed to be earmarked for the festivals following years of talks to address the squeeze on their public funding. But despite an official report published more than three years ago warning against complacency over Edinburgh’s festivals, no new deals are expected to be announced until the autumn, after a series of hitches over the past 12 months.

The legacy deal from last summer’s 70th anniversary events was meant to help address long-term funding squeezes on some of the city’s most prestigious events, including the EIF and Fringe, as well as the book, jazz, film and visual arts festivals. New world and European premieres, programme partnerships, skills development programmes and extra jobs were due to be delivered under the long-awaited programme.

The five-year initiative was originally inspired by a long-term blueprint for the future of Edinburgh’s festivals which warned that the city risked losing its “premier division status”.

The report, Thundering Hooves 2.0, published in May 2015, stated: “Edinburgh is a small city but its festivals put it on to the world stage. The next ten years is about capitalising on this reputation and advantage, finding new ways of experiencing and investing in one of Scotland’s greatest assets.”

The report called for an extra £10m a year to be generated from “alternative funding mechanisms”.

Festival chiefs hoped to win a pledge of an extra £7m a year from the proposed City Region Deal, but this was deemed “unaffordable”, and the UK government refused to endorse a propose £4m package on the basis that culture is devolved to Holyrood.

When Sturgeon announced the £15m deal ahead of the EIF’s final concert, she declared that the extra backing would sustain the success of Edinburgh’s festivals.

However, bids for funding have only recently opened and applicants will only know they have been successful after this year’s festivals have drawn to a close. Some programmes are not expected to start until the spring of next year.

A report for the city council warns of a number of risks over the £15m venture, including the possibility of the government and the council not being able to match the annual commitments announced last year for the Platforms for Creative Excellence (PLACE) programme.

The report states: “The programme objectives may be undermined by reductions in other public funding streams and continuing constraints in the fiscal and fundraising environment.”

Rachael Hamilton, shadow culture secretary for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “This is yet another example of the SNP making a grandstanding announcement, only to completely fail to deliver. The creative sector deserves better.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are spending £1m a year for the next five years through the Festivals Edinburgh partnership PLACE programme. Funding will be distributed in the autumn.”