Edinburgh’s festival crown under threat

Fringe performers on The Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Picture: Toby Williams.
Fringe performers on The Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Picture: Toby Williams.
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THE world-leading status of ­Edinburgh’s festivals is threatened by the prospect of a squeeze on public funding in the next few years, MSPs have been warned.

Organisers of the city’s money-spinning events said it was “essential” that levels of financial backing were maintained in the face of wider budget cuts if Edinburgh was to retain its crown as the world’s leading festival city.

Faith Liddell, director of ­umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh, warned other cities were waiting to knock Scotland’s capital “off its perch” because its model had been so successful.

Although the festivals are ­attended by almost two-thirds of people in Edinburgh, this drops to just 37 per cent in some areas, and plans are being drawn up to spread the benefits of the events, which are already worth £261 million to the Scottish economy and support 5,242 jobs.

One idea, partly inspired by the success of this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, is to encourage people to ­become “festival commuters” by staying in areas such as the ­Borders, Glasgow and Fife and travelling in for events.

Ms Liddell warned Holyrood’s tourism committee that the city’s reputation was at risk of being damaged by the cost of hotel rooms during the festivals season, saying they were now “at the limits of tolerable”.

The directors of the 12 leading festivals held during the year, including Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, sit on the board of Festivals Edinburgh, which helps raise extra funding from the likes of Edinburgh City Council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Ms Liddell said the city’s global reputation was built on the “diverse, quality and international” nature of the festivals, but there was a constant need to remain competitive with global rivals, many of whose leaders are in Edinburgh each summer to look at how the events are run.

She said: “It doesn’t all need to be about growth. What’s most important is that we maintain the quality. In terms of challenges, we’d have to say that the contracting public purse and pressures on both council and governments are a threat to us.

“There are other trends that we need to be able to respond to and there is a continuing issue around competitor cities. We are generous with our model here, but we know there are cities around the world that want to knock Edinburgh off its perch.”