John McLellan: Thunder less than enlightening

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IT sounds like a John Ford western, but Thundering Hooves does not star John Wayne or Maureen O’Hara, and some would argue that Hollywood classics have had more cultural impact on the average Edinburgh citizen than the International Festival.

In 2006, Thundering Hooves was the dramatic title given to a report about the future of the Festivals, the hooves doing the thundering being rivals like Manchester keen to get a slice of the cultural cake Edinburgh had kept largely to itself.

Now we have The Hooves Thunder Again, or, to give the follow-up its proper name, Thundering Hooves 2.0, the 2.0 presumably to give it some oh-so-up-to-date-tech-savvy credibility.

Hooves the Sequel is designed to spark the creative and cultural worlds into action both to secure the Festivals’ future and to encourage more people to get involved. Worth an estimated £260 million to the Scottish economy, it needs protecting. 
Commissioned by the Festivals Forum at a cost of £50,000, its chair, Lady Susan Rice, said it “sets out the 
strategic plan and recommended actions for Festivals Forum to take forward during the next ten years”.

The launch was overshadowed by the ongoing general election fallout and such initial attention as the report received focused on a call for a “memorandum of understanding” between Edinburgh and Glasgow, whatever that meant.

As perhaps should be expected from a consultancy document commissioned by a steering group designed to represent the views of different organisations, it is a good example of base-covering which makes general points and is careful not to upset anyone, especially in these touchy political times.

For the “emerging political structures” read divisive constitutional bickering, for example?

As Lady Rice, the former chief of Lloyds TSB in Scotland, is an expert diplomat who knows her way round Edinburgh’s boardrooms, salons and political corridors of power, this should be no surprise.

The report covers a wide range of subjects in six key areas – the Festival experience, education, marketing, digital expansion, investment and development delivery – and although it doesn’t delve into them in any great depth, it still manages to make 38 recommendations.

That the city council “should scope a joined-up digital infrastructure strategy”, is a typical example.

So Edinburgh’s annual accommodation crisis receives one paragraph, and the analysis goes no further than saying “there are reportedly shortages.” The action point is that the council should do something about it. The glaring absence of a proper large-scale venue warrants barely a sentence, and again the action point here is that new thinking about venues should be promoted. Genius.

There is slightly more on engagement with locals, but not much, 
limited to a claim that many people from ”deprived” areas don’t participate in Festival events but does not explain what this means.

Is it a failure, for instance, that most people in Muirhouse won’t go to the Marriage of Figaro this year, or that someone from Stenhouse should not regard themselves as engaged because they only went to see the fireworks and Jason Byrne?

Again, the recommendation it makes is to ensure there are co-ordinated quality engagement programmes. Right-oh.

The need to find new sources of revenue requires “new thinking and innovative solutions”. You don’t say.

There is quite a lot on Edinburgh becoming a leading “Green Festival City” without explaining why, but nothing about the growing tension caused by the dominance of the big corporately driven Fringe operators.

I don’t have a problem with the way the Pleasance, Underbelly and the rest operate, and I suspect the general public don’t either, but it’s a real issue which this report fails to address.

So what exactly have we got from it? It’s strange there is so little new detail given the amount of work done elsewhere, including an exhaustive impact study produced by the same consultants in 2011.

According to Lady Rice, it “will ensure Edinburgh addresses key challenges and opportunities, ensuring the Festival City retains its global competitive edge”.

Hooves 2.0 is, therefore, a rather pricy discussion paper not a detailed strategy document; there are plenty of vague marching orders but the answers to the key questions “how” are left to others.

The value lies in reading between the lines and to me the most important aspects are that all the elements which make the Festivals a success are working ever closer and that Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop was in on the launch.

Without making any commitment, her contribution is a tacit acknowledgement that the Scottish Government has a big role to play and that the festivals are a national asset which requires national support.

The most innovative ideas are on exporting events, like staging the Tattoo in Australia. It suggests licensing other events out to places such as the Middle East, although I’m not sure that would be my first choice.

There is also the suggestion that technical and digital expertise can be sold.

The concept of marketing not just our events but a developing reputation as a centre of excellence is worth pursuing.

Thundering Hooves 3.0 in 2025? Who knows what political structures will have emerged by then?

It all adds up if the price is right …

When the contract for the M74 extension, pictured, was awarded in 2008, it was estimated to cost £445 million. When it opened in 2011, then infrastructure minister Alex Neil said the work had been completed up to £20m under budget. Under the updated budget he meant, because in three years it took to build, the cost went up to £690m.

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games was budgeted to cost £373m, which was revised to £454 in November 2009. By the following May, it was up to £524m and late last year it was announced the final bill would be about £25m under budget . . at £550m.

So whether a project is under or over budget depends on what you say the budget is and how closely the costs are trailed; the spiralling cost of the Edinburgh tram line and Holyrood parliament buildings we all knew about because every extra penny and extra minute was documented in detail, most notably in the pages of the Evening News.

The difference with the Games and M74 is they remained on schedule because they were manageable projects with no big civil engineering or design issues. Public disquiet was therefore limited.

Now the SNP has given the tram system a first birthday present by pledging to support the completion to Leith as long as the cost is low and properly understood. That, of course, depends on what the party means by low and at what point. But with the hardware and rolling stock already bought, much of the utility work already completed and the contracts disputes settled, there is no excuse for a reliable cost estimate not being available.

The most recent figure was £80m to Newhaven, but as not all the utility work along the entire route was finished, the price could be higher.

But as far as spreading city development, social inclusion, improving the environment, and making the existing line better are concerned, the route going through Scotland’s most densely populated district makes sense.

So well done Adam McVey for setting aside his party’s previous opposition.

Blue-sky twaddle

PLAYED in boardrooms across the country, the game of Boardroom Bull can make the most tedious workplace meeting that little bit more bearable.

And for a standard work of reference, look no further than Thundering Hooves 2.0, a masterpiece of bureaucratic jargon which pen-pushers everywhere should recognise.

You score an instant point for the 2.0 in the title and then rich pickings in the introduction with “situational analysis” (that’s background) “model of best practice” (good example) and “sustained stakeholder investment” (money).

Then we have “stakeholders and partners to work collaboratively” (teams) “to connect across time and space” (wasn’t that a Led Zeppelin lyric?) on “new innovative approaches” (ideas).

There’s a bonus point for “siloed thinking” (either not talking to other people or slurry),“reach out” (contact) and “behind the curve” (just behind, the shape doesn’t make it better).

If you are a pen-pusher and these seem like reasonable phrases, you might have been amusing your colleagues for years. And can continue to do so. Going forward.

Get a move on

FULL marks to airport manager David Wilson for his mea culpa about problems at the new security hall; but there is still an awful lot of work to do to get things right.

Flustered staff are having to bark at passengers to get them to stand at the desired spots on the loading tables and the current maze through a hardboard tunnel to the departure hall makes the place feel jerry-built.

At least it’s still nowhere near as bad as ghastly Gatwick, but rush jobs rarely prove to be anything other than rushed and what Mr Wilson didn’t say was when things will be running properly. And it’s nearly June. No rush then.