Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society's funding plea should prompt serious economic thinking by Scottish Government – Scotsman comment

After the Fringe Society’s plea for extra public funding, ministers should take a more strategic approach to Scotland’s arts sector

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society’s plea for more public funding has become a familiar one. This year, while the Fringe sold nearly 2.5 million tickets, the society which runs it was left with a deficit of £630,000.

Its chief executive Shona McCarthy said there was a “moral obligation” to reinstate the organisation to Creative Scotland’s long-term funding programme, from which it was controversially dropped in 2018. Since then, the Fringe and the rest of Scotland’s cultural industries have been hit by the twin blows of Covid and the cost-of-living crisis, so her plea at least merits fresh consideration.

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“We just want to be considered a major, important, understood, national cultural asset. It just doesn’t feel like that at the moment,” she said, adding that the society needed a “strategic response, not a crisis response” from the Scottish Government – not one-off, short-term help but a lasting solution to ensure its future.

It’s hard not to be sympathetic, given the Fringe is a globally recognised, cultural jewel in Scotland’s crown. And, in the grand scheme of things, covering the Fringe Society's £630,000 deficit would not be a big budget item for the Scottish Government, coming in at just 57 times Michael Matheson’s expense claim for a week’s data roaming in Morocco.

However, as the country continues to be buffeted by crises of our own making – like Brexit and the Scottish Government’s incompetence – and others outside our control, many economic sectors are having to adapt to survive. The addition of just 25p to those 2.5 million Fringe tickets could also have wiped out the deficit.

None of this should be seen as a reason to not support the Fringe. Its cultural and economic contribution is simply too big to risk its future. That means emergency support may need to be offered now, simply to ensure the show goes on into 2024.

But, if so, this should also be a moment to take a more strategic, broader approach to our arts sector – to fully understand its economic impact, and the ways those vital organisations, which enable so much, could be supported in the long run. That way, Scotland's vital arts sector can be placed on a more sustainable footing.



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