Steve Cardownie: Bumper year for Fringe

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As we reach the last day of the Fringe, it must be said that this year has been the biggest and best yet for the festivals.

Sales at the Assembly Rooms and The Stand have reached record heights, while other venues have welcomed twice as many ticket holders through their doors compared to 2013.

I have never seen the Old Town and High Street busier. This year the Fringe has put on almost 50,000 stagings of more than 3000 performances in just under 300 venues.

There is no other place that has this offering for three weeks like we do and we are increasingly joining up the city’s ability to cope and promote with the festivals, including laying on late-night tram services for revellers. The festivals are also expanding from the Old Town to include the new pedestrian-friendly George Street and St Andrew Square, and residents, businesses and visitors have all been positive about the festival atmosphere branching out to new areas of the city. In fact, this year the festivals have reached some of the furthest corners of Edinburgh, including a show by performers Common Wealth in a Craigmillar boxing gym.

Considering all of this, I was surprised to read Mike Stevenson’s column in the Evening News last week comparing Glasgow’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games against Edinburgh’s festivals, suggesting Edinburgh residents feel unwelcome “at their own party” (18 August).

Glasgow should be commended for the fantastic atmosphere created during the Games. The whole event was a triumph and turned the spotlight on Scotland’s west coast. In terms of numbers and ticket sales, the summer Festivals are equal in size and we put this on every year.

While tourists travel from all parts of the globe to sample the unique atmosphere, August in Edinburgh is also loved by visitors from closer to home. Scots, and in particular local residents, increasingly make up a large proportion of the overall festival audience.

A council survey last year confirmed that 89 per cent of residents agree that the festivals increase their pride in Edinburgh as a city and 92 per cent agree the festivals give them a chance to see artists and performances that they could not see elsewhere. This is a trend that is increasing.

We also know that access to the arts is very important to this city. Last year, 69 per cent of Edinburgh teachers told us that they felt that the festivals make a difference to children’s creativity and this year there are hundreds of free events taking place.

It is also worth noting that the 12 festivals which take place across the year generate £245 million for the local economy and £261m for the national economy, supporting 5242 full-time jobs in Edinburgh. As the Ryder Cup looms close, I can’t help but point out this is a bigger impact than golf tourism for Scotland.

Edinburgh has been working since 1947 on expanding and bettering our festivals offering and this longevity is one of the greatest reflections on their success. But of course there is no room for complacency. Festivals across the globe are growing and we must remain competitive. This is why the council, together with strategic partners, is commissioning Thundering Hooves 2 – a report to assess the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats that may lie ahead for Edinburgh’s festivals. That way, we can innovate further to succeed and maintain this city’s reputation as the world’s festival city.

Councillor Steve Cardownie is Edinburgh’s Festivals and Events Champion