Edinburgh Festival organisers need help from government on cost of temporary accommodation in the Capital – Steve Cardownie

Now that the summer festivals have drawn to a close, time will be spent analysing the audience attendance figures and the feedback from promoters and participants alike.

A street entertainer performs on Edinburgh's Royal Mile earlier this month (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
A street entertainer performs on Edinburgh's Royal Mile earlier this month (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

From what we already know, there is room for cautious optimism that, with a robust response to the challenges they still face, it looks like the future success of the festivals can be anticipated.

This year, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe celebrated its 75th anniversary and it has returned audience figures which have confounded some sceptics, who were predicting that this year’s events would be but a mere shadow of their former selves.

The Fringe programme featured 3,171 shows in 276 venues across the city and recorded a total audience figure of 2,201,175, making it the sixth highest in its history.

Although 3,841 shows were staged in 2019 in 323 venues, which set the record, it nevertheless demonstrates that the first steps to a full-scale recovery have been taken.

The false claim that the Fringe is only there to accommodate tourists and that Edinburgh citizens shun the shows on offer has also, once more, been discredited as local residents snapped up 39 per cent of the tickets on sale.

Underbelly director Charlie Wood told me yesterday: “It was great to see the festivals bounce back despite the pitfalls they faced – the prohibitive cost of accommodation and rail strikes being two. There is, of course, room for optimism, but it is imperative that a six-week exemption on short-term lets is granted for the festivals and that there should also be an exemption for student accommodation landlords under the Private Residential Tenancy (2017) system which would allow them to rent to non-students during non-semester time, which is currently enjoyed by the universities.”

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Food for thought indeed but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that, if appropriate steps are not taken, the cost of temporary accommodation during the summer months in Edinburgh will inevitably hamper any progress that needs to be made to secure the future well-being of the festivals and the much-needed boost to the local economy that they bring.

That Edinburgh is the premier festival city in the UK and beyond is surely not in doubt but although we may have some of the world's best operators in the cultural sector, they cannot move mountains and need the assistance of both local and national governments if they are to succeed.

I have no doubt that, provided with the right tools, they have the foresight and skills to ensure that Edinburgh’s international artistic reputation will emerge untarnished.

As a wee footnote, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my best wishes to Amanda Rogers, founder of Cinescapes which is staging “Cinema on the Shore” in “Sunny Leith” on the 17th and 18th of next month.

A giant screen will be erected in Dock Place, off Commercial Street, and, according to Amanda, “Cinema on the Shore will have films for children, new documentaries and short films, all with a theme of the sea.”

As a Leither, it warms the cockles of my heart (to keep up the theme of the sea) to see even more events being staged in the historic but forward-looking town of my birth.