Ex-council chief slams Edinburgh Festivals extension proposal

Tourists soak up the festivsl atmosphere on the Royal Mile. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Tourists soak up the festivsl atmosphere on the Royal Mile. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Calls for the city’s festival season to be stretched out over four months have been criticised by Edinburgh’s former deputy council leader.

Steve Cardownie warned that tinkering with the dates of festival schedules could lead to “killing the goose that lays the egg”.

A suggestion by Edinburgh MP Tommy Sheppard, for the city to conduct an experiment of staging its major events at different times of the year, has received support.

But Mr Cardownie called the idea “misguided”.

“To coin a well-known phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

“Some have already rushed to misguidedly call for the number of festival events to be reduced in August and held on other months of the year,” he said. “Not only is it misguided, it flies in the face of the evidence that it is exactly because there is so much to experience in Edinburgh in August which attracts such huge audiences and visitors from abroad.”

Mr Cardownie points to the 11 major festivals taking place throughout the year – the Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Art Festival, Book Festival, Storytelling Festival, Edinburgh Hogmanay, Science Festival, Children’s Festival, Film Festival and the International Jazz and Blues Festival – of which six are outwith August.

“The Festivals Impact Study, published in July last year, and the Edinburgh People’s Survey published in March threw up some remarkable findings; 94 per cent of visitor festival-goers feel that the festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh special as a city, 92 per cent stated that the festivals were “must see” events that gave them the chance to see things that they would not otherwise see, 89 per cent of local festival-goers agreed that the festivals increased their pride in Edinburgh as a city and 80 per cent of local people believe the festivals make Edinburgh a better place to live.

“This last finding surely nails the falsehood that they are an encumbrance.”

But Mr Sheppard said the Festival is not the same as it was five years ago.

“It has been growing and changing dramatically,” he said. “We should take a look at things – the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” way of approaching seems silly, just sticking our heads in the sand.

“There is no harm in looking and we should always be willing to look at changing and improving for the benefit of the city and the people who live in it.”

“It’s a bit of a supertanker so you can’t do things from one year to the next – if you need to change the dates for example for the Fringe, it would need to be from 2019-2020.

“But having a long read-in time does not mean it is 
something that shouldn’t be looked at and considered.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “As the pre-eminent festival city that welcomes artists, technicians, authors, conductors and visitors from across the world at a peak time for international holidays, Edinburgh is especially lucky to be able to welcome children and their families to the summer festivals both during holiday time and during term time. We believe this offers the best of both worlds but we support taking other views into account. Ultimately, the dates are set by the festival 
organisers.”

fiona.pringle@jpress.co.uk