Edinburgh festivals: We must not kill goose that lays golden egg – Steve Cardownie

Coronavirus outbreak is giving Edinburgh a taste of what it is like to be without its festivals, writes Steve Cardownie
Edinburgh's festivals are a key part of the city economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Edinburgh's festivals are a key part of the city economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Edinburgh's festivals are a key part of the city economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

As a former City Council Festival and Events Champion, the impact that Covid-19 has had on the Edinburgh’s festival programme and the consequences for the city economy has given me cause for a great deal of concern.

The usual keyboard junkies have greeted the news of the havoc wreaked by this virus on our cultural and events programme with glee and as a cause for celebration, seemingly incapable of objectively determining what future the city faces if it is bereft of festivals.

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This year’s cancellations of, amongst others, the International Festival, the Fringe, the Tattoo, the Jazz and Blues Festival, the Film Festival, the Book Festival and the Christmas and Hogmanay Festivals will, however, be felt far and wide.

The winter festivals alone generated more than £151 million impact on the local economy. £151m! Hardly chickenfeed! More than 2.6 million people (64 per cent of whom hailed from Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland) visited the Christmas attractions last year. So much for the Gardens only being visited by foreign tourists!

It should also be remembered that prior to the Christmas Market these very same gardens closed to the public around 3.30pm and no-one was allowed in but now boast throngs of people up to 10pm in the evenings. The bigger West Princes Street Gardens is also open as usual and is more than capable of accommodating the numbers who might wish to take a stroll.

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The Hogmanay events alone attracted more than 180,000 people (32 per cent of whom came from Scotland, making up part of the 75 per cent from the UK as a whole), making a major contribution to the city’s finances.

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Edinburgh’s festivals have featured approximately 25,000 performers from more than 70 countries and contribute more than £300m annually to the local economy. The August events alone only came second in scale to the Olympic Games and attracted a combined audience of 4.4 million last year. To boast such high attendance figures that only the Olympic Games surpass them is truly remarkable and is the envy of cities throughout the world, especially when bearing in mind that the Games only take place every four years and Edinburgh’s festivals take place every year.

It is estimated that the summer festivals support 5,000 jobs in Edinburgh, with the tourism sector as a whole supporting 36,000 jobs each year, many of which are now at risk.

Indeed Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce has already sounded the alarm, warning that as well as the festival organisations themselves, there are a lot of other businesses at risk not directly involved with festivals, such as hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as there being a ripple effect in the supply chain that affects a myriad of enterprises, with many going to the wall and others now facing an uncertain future.

Taxi drivers and tour operators, who have seen their customer base plummet due to the pandemic, cannot now look forward to any respite that might have been provided by the onset of the summer festivals and unfortunately this is mirrored in many professions and occupations throughout the city.

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The major stakeholders will have their work cut out in ensuring that the city’s cultural offering is not holed below the waterline but Edinburgh is blessed with having talented people working in the festival and events sector who, coupled with their counterparts in the private sector in the fields of tourism, commerce and finance, should be able to chart a course which holds out the promise of success.

Some people will never be convinced (many because they don’t want to be) that the city’s festivals and events play a crucial role in the cultural and financial well-being of the city but will now get the opportunity to witness first hand what a loss they would be.

This unplanned hiatus provides an opportunity to assess and restructure the way that the city manages this hugely important aspect of Edinburgh life, However, great care must be taken to ensure that any new measures taken do not result in the death of the goose that lays the golden egg.

Bobby scores another cracker with NHS taxi rides

Monday’s Evening News carried an article about Bobby Malcolm, formerly a DJ on Radio Forth and now running his own business, A1 Taxis, who is doing his bit in the current virus crisis by ferrying frontline staff to and from work in a fleet of cars he owns with his wife, Carolann.

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I knew Bobby when we both played for the Edinburgh amateur football team, Heriot Vale, managed by the ever-patient Sandy Ritchie, when we won the 4th Division title. Playing up front, he was a prodigious goalscorer and all-round accomplished footballer (is that good enough for a discount Bobby?).

Our paths crossed again when he was a member of the award-winning Radio Forth “Breakfast Crew” with a good pal of mine, Steve Jack, who both took to the airwaves every weekday morning between 8am and 10am and invariably included a healthy dose of soul and Tamla Motown music in their programme.

It is good to see that, coming up for ripe old age of 69 (there goes my discount), Bobby shows no sign of sitting back with his feet up and is working hard to record his appreciation of the dedication demonstrated by NHS and other frontline staff by putting his vehicles at their disposal.

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