Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Here's what politicians need to do to ensure Fringe is once again a £1 billion event – Nick Cook

I’ve never been a huge fan of the actor Brian Cox. Well, at least not his political interventions, which are usually delivered from 3500 miles away from New York.

But there is little doubt he is a serious player in the acting world and recent comments on the Edinburgh Fringe becoming unaffordable for aspiring talent are certainly deserving of attention.

Cox’s intervention followed an open letter to Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. Organised by the Live Comedy Association, a basket of concerns was raised by some 1600 performers, producers and agents around issues like accommodation costs and funding transparency.

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Worries were also raised around the decision to axe the popular Fringe app, considered by the talent to be key to pushing up ticket sales and increasing their chances of making something resembling a decent living, and changes to the ‘half-price hut’ model.

With all credit to Ms McCarthy, she responded extensively. For example, it is noted that the Fringe has secured some 1200 rooms for performers costing £280 or less per week – a huge benefit no doubt made possible due to the plethora of student accommodation across the city.

Ms McCarthy is also frank about the government support offered to the Fringe during the pandemic which requires to be paid back, unlike the support given to other industries. The popular app has been axed in place of a mobile website due to the eye-watering costs of upgrading it.

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: The biggest changes on the cards this year

At a time when we are all due a good laugh, it seems the lead-up to the 75th Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the first ‘proper’ Fringe since 2019, is thus far no laughing matter for performers or organisers.

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Street artists perform on the Royal Mile during the Fringe festival (Picture: Ian Stewart/AFP via Getty Images)

Given that the last full event is said to have generated up to £1 billion for the Scottish economy, it is in the interests of the Scottish Government, UK Government and Edinburgh Council to ensure not just that the Fringe muddles by, but that it can be supported to succeed into the future.

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Some further financial support package seems an obvious way to assist. The financial effects of Covid remain as real as the disease itself, as does the need to increase footfall in the city centre to see our independent bars, cafes, restaurants and shops continue to build back.

But with such monetary support unlikely to prove unforthcoming in the current circumstances, politicians can help in other ways.

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Sorting out Britain’s railways shouldn’t need any impetus, but what greater motivation could there be for Scottish and UK ministers than £1 billion-worth of inward investment into Scotland’s Capital being at stake? ScotRail looks set to resume a full service after months of disruption, but slated RMT strike actions could still cause big issues in August.

Despite a much-heralded change in political leadership in the City Chambers, the city centre still needs a good scrub. The road layout continues to be worthy of its own Fringe show. The roads and pavements themselves need attention and we are still waiting on a replacement cycle-hire scheme.

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Like others, I hope that once underway, the 75th Edinburgh Fringe will prove a unifying and cathartic experience. But there is no avoiding the fact some heavy lifting is required by organisers and politicians to see the Festival truly thrive post-pandemic.

Nick Cook was political advisor to former Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson. He was an Edinburgh City councillor 2012-22