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Leaders of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society say the city’s status as host of a leading cultural festival is in jeopardy unless the Scottish government offers a new funding approach.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society Chief Executive Shona McCarthy at the CEEAC meeting

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society is calling upon the Scottish government to offer it core funding to ensure the festival’s long-term future.

The organisation, which is responsible for operations including the box office and industry events programme at the annual festival, currently does not receive any core public funding.

Speaking at a Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee (CEEAC) meeting held last week (11 January), the society’s Chief Executive Shona McCarthy told MSPs a “specific and bespoke” funding response from the Scottish government is required.


“I still find it astounding when I say it out loud that the Fringe is falling through the cracks of all of the existing funding mechanisms,” McCarthy said.

“We do not receive core support, we suffer from not being a regularly-funded organisation and we suffer from not fitting within the major events portfolio as we are not a mobile or one-off event.

“To put our position starkly at the minute, we are going into 2024 with no reserves, carrying a huge deficit and a loan from the Scottish government that we got to survive Covid, which we had to get because of the historic wrong of being removed by Creative Scotland as a regularly-funded organisation. It’s absolutely crucial that, at the very least, we break even this year.”

In December, the Scottish government announced it would increase funding for culture and heritage by £15.8m in its 2024/25 budget. The increase marked the first step towards a pledge to invest an additional £100m in arts and culture by 2028/29 and followed a reduction in its culture budget made last year.

McCarthy said she had “absolutely no idea” whether the Fringe will receive any of the promised additional arts funding.

In a written response to the CEEAC, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Festival Society’s board and executive called for a £1.5m annual investment.

“There needs to be investment in the platform and infrastructure that underpins the festival, to offer some underwriting of the risks and costs, which will, in turn, create jobs, improve artist and visitor experience, and allow the focus of those who make the festival to be squarely on the production of their best work for their long term professional development,” their response says.

It added an £1.5m annual investment, which would be mainly spent on “the supply chain of Scottish businesses who provide services to the festival each year”, could generate a 133:1 return on investment.

‘Diminishing’ status

The society’s executive team warned the Scottish government failure to invest in it could see Edinburgh lose its position as a leading cultural city.

“With other cities in the UK and other nations seizing the opportunity and providing significant investment for ambitious cultural projects and events, Edinburgh's festival city status is looking diminished,” the organisation’s response added.

“We need to be able to be relevant, ambitious and competitive, and we need to be able to attract local and international talent to work in our sector.

“We urge the government to ensure that when money is available that the choice is made to support long-term, home-grown initiatives that deliver for the nation culturally, socially, economically and reputationally.”

Tourism levy vote

A new funding opportunity may open up if a proposed tourism tax is passed by Holyrood.

Members of Scottish parliament are set to vote on a proposed tax levy today (16 January). The proposed bill would allow local authorities to introduce a charge on overnight visitor stays, as already seen in several leading tourist destinations in Europe.

The levy would constitute a percentage of visitors’ accommodation costs. The bill proposes the cash raised is put towards subsidising tourism infrastructure, but Edinburgh Council Leader Cammy Day, who said the levy could help raise around £25m for the city, has suggested it could also support the city’s festivals.

Speaking at last week’s culture committee meeting, McCarthy said the levy “concerns me greatly at the moment because there seems to be a shopping list against that when it comes into play that just dilutes its impact on everything”.

“I think if there aren't other routes for us to get support then we at the very least need to be written in very strongly to that,” she added.