More partnership working is key for the future of local authority arts funding in Edinburgh, but delays and a budget deficit are hindering progress.

Photo of someone in bright blue carnival dress
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'Edinburgh Festival Carnival' by William Starkey (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A shakeup of arts funding by the City of Edinburgh Council has suffered a setback, with the council intensifying its savings drive and delays in the publication of its new cultural policy.

The council is hoping to better align its cultural programmes with its policy priorities. It is revising its revenue funding application and assessment process and exploring alternative funding models, such as forming co-production relationships with other council-run cultural bodies and services. By working collaboratively, potentially with the private sector or trusts, the council hopes to fund even more individuals and organisations, including through a new open fund that will support emerging performing arts.

Cultural funding decisions from 2016/17 were meant to be based on a new cultural policy, due to be published in spring 2015. A city-wide consultation produced the ‘Desire Lines’ document earlier this year, but the final cultural policy has been delayed and will now be presented to the council in November – after the deadline for organisations to apply for revenue funding for next year.

Further complications arose over the summer when the council announced it hopes to make savings of £107m by 2019/20. The 36 cultural organisations currently funded by the council were initially told to plan for a 10% cut to the £5.2m budget over five years – with no savings to be made until 2016/17 – but the cuts may be more severe.

As part of an ongoing review of the council’s third sector grants, it has conducted a “financial health check” of the cultural organisations it currently funds. It found that 2% are at risk of company failure over the next 12 months and 14% may have difficulties in paying creditors. A financial capacity assessment found that 14% may struggle to respond to change, such as that imposed by a grant cut, and the council will now conduct more detailed assessments to determine which organisations are most able to sustain funding cuts.

All of the funded organisations are either in the third year of a three-year funding agreement, or on an annual agreement. A 2014 review recommended that future grants be offered for a period of three years to maximise financial stability, but whether or not this is taken up is yet to be confirmed.

This October existing grant recipients will be filling in a pared-down grant monitoring form, rather than a full application form, while the new cultural policy is completed and the budget set. These forms have already been adapted to align with the priorities highlighted by the Desire Lines report: leadership; resources and sustainability; communications and responding to feedback; inclusion, diversity, equality and access; and facilitation, partnership, developing and promoting joint working.

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A photo of Frances Richens