Blow trumpet to avoid cuts, Festivals told

EDINBURGH'S festivals will need to make a stronger case for support from the public purse if they are to emerge unscathed from the spending squeeze, a major summit on their future heard yesterday.

Leading figures warned of ignorance and complacency about the value of the capital's money-spinning events to the nation after several days of heated debate about the financial threats they are facing.

Broadcasting major events from the festivals into cinemas and theatres around the world, rival events joining forces to persuade overseas governments to support visits of groups and performers, and helping festival-goers to navigate their way around the programme and venues were all put forward as ways of helping to curb the impact of funding cuts.

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It also emerged that the capital's festivals are preparing a fresh case for dedicated Scottish Government funding that is "ring-fenced" to support home-grown work.

Creative Scotland's chief executive Andrew Dixon said he was hopeful of a positive result from talks with civil servants and culture minister Fiona Hyslop about the continuation of the Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund, which has seen 2 million a year ploughed into the capital's 12 major events for each of the last three years.

Yesterday's debate was held just days after Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), revealed its programme faced being scaled back after he was told his budget may be slashed by up to 15 per cent in the next three years.

Mills said yesterday there was a "certain level of complacency" in the city about the value of the capital's events - which are believed to be worth upwards of 200m - and revealed he had been shocked at the level of "disengagement" with the festivals he had found from bodies like VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise.

"We have got big arguments to make, although we are starting from a good position in that we know from research that 76 per cent of people believe that the festivals are a good thing for the city. That figure would be the envy of a lot of political parties.

"We have gone from having tens of thousands of pounds' worth of support from overseas governments to help bring shows here to having hundreds of thousands of pounds. The clearest way we can collaborate with the Fringe is work on new initiatives to build and maintain these kind of relationships."

Mills revealed the EIF was working to resolve contractual and copyright issues that prevented performances being broadcast into cinemas and theatres, but said it was hoped these would be resolved within two to three years.

Charlie Wood, director of promoters Underbelly, said: "We need much better promotion of the festivals, particularly in London and around England.It just doesn't register on the same scale as something like Glastonbury."

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Steve Cardownie, the city council's festivals and events champion, warned of fears that some local politicians would see the arts and festivals as an "easy target" for cuts, with the local authority facing having to save up to 140m from its budget over the next three years.

However, it was the surprise endorsement of a bed tax by Creative Scotland's chief executive that triggered the most heated debate.

Dixon called for the introduction of new legislation to ensure the private sector shared the burden of supporting the capital's flagship events. He said similar schemes, which see a surcharge on hotel bills that is then ring-fenced for festivals, were already working successfully around the world.

Dixon said: "We don't have the tax powers to introduce any kind of bed tax at the moment. If we could create the environment to deliver that, it could have huge benefits.

"It is all about trying to get the private sector to realise that they are benefiting in many ways from the work that is going on at the festivals around the city.

But Faith Liddell, the director of Festivals Edinburgh, said: "There is no point in bludgeoning them to support us or trying to bring in money on the basis of resentment."