Edinburgh Festival Fringe chief issues 'heartfelt apology' to rebel performers and venues

The chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has issued a “heartfelt apology" to artists, venues, producers and publicists behind a rebellion against the running of the event ahead in its 75th anniversary year.

Shona McCarthy has admitted to mishandling communication with participants and said she wanted to “apologise unreservedly for the distress this had caused”.

The apology was issued after Ms McCarthy had earlier blamed a form of “post-Covid" stress for a rebellion triggered by an open-letter calling for “immediate, meaningful action” to address a host of concerns about the run-up to the festival.

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She has been criticised for her response to what she described as “noise” at the Fringe’s programme launch, expressing dismay that the Live Comedy Association, which instigated the open letter, had gone into “nuclear mode” without speaking to the society directly.

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Comics Janey Godley, Greg McHugh, Daniel Sloss, Susie McCabe, Mark Nelson, Al Murray, Jo Caulfield and Mark Watson were among more than 1700 signatories to the open letter, which warned it was “increasingly difficult” to justify the expense of taking part in the Fringe.

It raised concerns about failures of communication, a lack of transparency about where public funding support for the Fringe had been allocated, and the soaring cost of accommodation for participants.

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A row ignited last weekend after it emerged the official smartphone app for the Fringe would not be returning and that the Fringe Society had kept its registration fees at the same level for a reduced service.

The open letter said there had been “no communication, consultation or explanation” over the app’s absence, adding that it was “shocking” that it only emerged in response to a tweet.

Shona McCarthy is chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Ms McCarthy said: “I am sorry. We really should have better communicated that the app would be one of the casualties of our financial constraints this year. I apologise unreservedly for the distress this has clearly caused.

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“While we did remove the app from the benefits of registration, the confirmation receipt and all our media and artist advice content, we should have communicated more clearly on this point specifically.

“Like everyone else, we love our Fringe app. But let me be clear: an app that serves the whole Fringe is incredibly complex and requires a six-month development cycle for a total cost in the region of £200,000.

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"The redevelopment required for 2022 alone would have been £100,000.

The Fringe will celebrate its 75th anniversary next month. Picture: Neil Hanna

“Remember where we were in December last year, when our budgets were being agreed: we were going into another lockdown, facing another strain of Covid, we didn’t even know if the festival would definitely happen, we had a depleted team, no sponsors and a huge hole in the budget.

“This is why we had to make the difficult choice to postpone this critical development to the app in December 2021 – we had neither the investment funds required, nor the risk appetite, given the fact we weren’t convinced live events would even be a possibility.

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“Again, I have learned the lesson and heard your message – we simply should have told you this at the time.

“I can only repeat my heartfelt apology for not communicating this detail more clearly, and earlier, with a wider body of stakeholders. It is a big learning for us and I can assure you it will not happen again.”

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