Edinburgh festivals in funding plea to tackle 'grave risks' over 2021 comeback

Edinburgh’s festivals have warned there are “grave risks” over their ability to bounce back from this year’s coronavirus cancellations – amid claims their absence will lead to 7,000 job losses and a £360 million hit to the economy.

Edinburgh's festivals have been running since 1947.
Edinburgh's festivals have been running since 1947.

They are seeking additional public funding to help prevent “potential market failure” of events which have been staged as far back as 1947 due to the long-last impact of the ­Covid-19 pandemic.

The Edinburgh International Festival, the Tattoo, the Fringe and the city’s celebrations of literature and visual art were officially called off in April – weeks after an indefinite ban on mass gatherings in Scotland was imposed.

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There is huge uncertainty over when they will be able to resume, with some events industry experts predicting that social distancing will be in place well into 2021.

But MSPs have been told they fear being hit by a collapse in income from sponsors, donors and ticket buyers, uncertainty over how new hygiene regulations will affect events, travel curbs on international artists and a reluctance of some older festivalgoers to “gather in crowds.”

A dossier from umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh for Holyrood’s culture committee calls for new public funding to be pledged to “underwrite the risks inherent in managing our way through the next few years”.

It states: “Over the last decade, the festivals have significantly diversified their income, particularly through developments in ticketing and sponsorship, but the collapse of these two income streams – together with the costs of adapting to new public health measures – is leading to a potential market failure for these viable long-term assets, which can only be prevented by timely intervention and risk-sharing from the public sector.

“Edinburgh’s Festivals are enviable world-class assets which could not be replicated in scope and scale if Scotland had to start from scratch. Changing conditions and audience needs will accelerate innovation in leading the development of new formats and hybrid live digital events - but digital markets are not a replacement for live collective experiences as a core offer, and they can be limited by issues around intellectual property rights, quality control, audience reach, inequalities and monetisation.

“To secure the unique contributions of our cultural capital and world-leading festival city towards a sustainable and successful future for the whole of Scotland, all those who can lead change need to join forces and help address the key challenges for our time and for the generations to come.”

Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, said: “Over eight decades, our constant focus on programming excellence and connecting local and global voices has created a resource for Scotland of unmatched cultural power, and a source of joy and meaning for generations of citizens.

“Like others working to build back a better society, we need to adapt and renew while holding onto our fundamental purpose and value.

“Yet the long-term effects of this catastrophic season could have an irreversible nationwide impact on these benefits and on Scotland’s creative and service sector workers, without a strategic plan to retain and reimagine their positive impacts.”

The Fringe has been officially cancelled this year for the first time in its history due to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge

Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey said: “When the decision was taken to cancel the 2020 August festivals, we pledged support for Edinburgh’s cultural sector through our funding programmes and for this resource to be repurposed to help towards mitigating the impacts of the current pressures.

“We are continuing to work with all of our cultural and festival partners with the shared aim of securing their future.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “Making accurate predictions for 2021 and beyond as a whole is exceptionally difficult but what we do know is that Edinburgh will need to adapt, change, innovate and behave differently for the foreseeable future.

“We must work collectively to deliver events, experiences, opportunities and attractions that meet the medical and social needs of our recovery from this pandemic whilst responsibly welcoming residents and visitors back into Edinburgh.

Every sector is facing major issues about how to operate viably post Covid-19, with our fantastic and world renowned festivals and wider cultural community being affected severely. They must be central to our recovery and receive appropriate support.

“In conjunction with local and national government; the corporate sector, tourism, retail and hospitality industries in Edinburgh need to work together and by supporting each other we will recover, however we need to be prepared for this to take considerable time.”

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