Council row: City ‘can’t afford Festival subsidy’

Critics of funding for events such as Edinburgh Fringe say businesses who benefit should dig deeper. Picture: Jon Savage
Critics of funding for events such as Edinburgh Fringe say businesses who benefit should dig deeper. Picture: Jon Savage
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A SENIOR councillor is demanding to know why arts funding in the Capital has been ring-fenced in the face of crippling cuts.

The Evening News has learned that a £4 million annual package for flagship events – including the Edinburgh International and Fringe festivals – was declared untouchable as city chiefs drew up plans to save £67m by 2017-18.

It comes after the latest proposed council budget revealed that sports centres were under threat, football pitches may not be lined and grass-cutting could be axed under plans to slice almost £30m from annual spending next year. Arts spending is protected after a deal was reached in 2013 to fix festival funding for a three-year period.

But it is understood that the move has sparked a split in the Capital’s ruling Labour-SNP administration.

One senior member told the News: “The council has to get its priorities right and ensure we are protecting the city’s most vulnerable.”

Recent figures show several of the Capital’s leading cultural gatherings benefit from large handouts from the public purse.

These include a £2.38m grant given to directors of the Edinburgh International Festival, while organisers of Hogmanay receive just over £1m.

Opposition councillors agreed that protecting festival funds would strike many as “odd” but urged caution over moves towards grant cuts.

Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green finance spokesman, said: “As a city we do need to invest in [the festivals], not by raiding core budgets, but by getting some of the big commercial companies who rake in millions at festival time to dig a bit deeper.

“And the Scottish Government/city council impasse over a visitor levy needs to be unblocked now. A levy could raise up to £10m a year for events and promotion, freeing up council tax for frontline services.”

Festival bosses warned any decrease in public funding would be “short-sighted”.

Chris Purnell, director of the Edinburgh Mela, which receives a grant of just under £77,000, said: “This has to be looked at in the longer term – [cutting funds] would have a detrimental effect on jobs in all sorts of industries.”

Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, declined to comment. Councillor Steve Cardownie, the Capital’s festivals and events champion, said talk of division over festival funding was a “surprise” and denied existing arrangements were “elitist”.

A council spokeswoman added: “The council’s cultural policy, which is currently undergoing a refresh, will be confirmed in spring 2015.

“This policy will provide the council with a new framework for future cultural funding decisions, including Edinburgh’s festivals, from 2016-17 onwards.”