Fringe warning over high fees for Edinburgh venues

Story-teller Andy Lawrence at the 2009 Festival. Picture: Jane Barlow
Story-teller Andy Lawrence at the 2009 Festival. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe has warned that the “disproportionate” cost of setting up venues in the city could see producers take their shows to rival events.

The city council has been warned that charges levied for entertainment licences are now the most expensive in Britain, despite the fact more than 250 venues are set up in the capital every summer.

Organisers of the festival, which generates around £140 million for the city’s economy, have pleaded for help to make the event more affordable to companies by lowering charges and reducing red tape.

There are calls for the lowest fee charged by the council to be dropped from the current minimum of £874 – for venues capable of housing just a few dozen audience members – to £150, to bring the Fringe into line with other events, like the Brighton Fringe.

In a letter to the local authority, Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland warned that the 66-year-old event had a model “which cities around the world envy and regularly attempt to replicate”.

The cost of bringing shows to the Fringe is regularly cited as one of the main barriers to staging an event during what has long been the largest arts festival in the world.

More shows than ever before were staged last year – 2,695 altogether – across 279 venues, compared to 258 venues in 2011.

The vast majority of Fringe venues require a temporary public entertainment licence as they are not in use year-round.However, Ms Mainland added: “Fringe venues often face a challenge to break even.

“Unfavourable licence fees could prevent newcomers from establishing themselves as venue operators and could drive established operators to present only those shows which are likely to generate substantial ticket sales as opposed to more challenging and untested work.

“Unfavourable licensing fees in Edinburgh might also encourage venue operators to look at alternative locations.”

Councillors were urged to intervene over the charges for Fringe venues during a hearing which rubber-stamped proposals to exempt most free events from the need to secure a public entertainment licence.

Under the proposals, consulted upon over the last year, the majority of arts events for under 500 people will not need a licence as long as people are not charged an admission fee.

Neil Mackinnon, the Fringe’s head of external affairs, told the council: “This process has given us an opportunity to raise some of the very long-standing concerns which venue operators have had, particularly about fees for entertainment licences and how they are disproportionately higher than any other local authority across the UK.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “The licensing service is currently under review and we will consider the points made by the Fringe Society very carefully as part of this process.”