Edinburgh's Lord Provost needs to make an 'Olympian' effort to protect the city's amazing festivals – Susan Dalgety
There are always going to be people out to make a quick buck. But the landlords who are asking for nearly £34,000 to rent an Old Town flat for the month of August have taken greed to a new level.
Surely no one, not even the most desperate group of festival performers, will be willing – or able – to shell out upwards of £8,500 a week for a three-bedroom flat. Even if you were to squeeze a dozen folk into the space, it would still work out at £2,800 a month each. A high price to pay to share a sofa bed or sleep on the floor.
It’s perhaps too easy to take one ridiculous rental and suggest that this shows there is an accommodation crisis looming for Edinburgh’s festivals, but Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe, clearly thinks it’s bad news. Speaking about the rising cost of Edinburgh accommodation last week, she told MPs on Westminster’s Scottish Affairs committee that the issue required an “Olympic” response. And Francesca Hegyi, chief executive of the Edinburgh International Festival, said that everyone needed to get round the table, and “work out what is a sustainable future… for Edinburgh and for the festivals”.
Now I am not sure if the Lord Provost, Robert Aldridge, could be described as an Olympian, but as Edinburgh’s ‘First Citizen’ he surely has the clout to bring people together to thrash out a plan to protect and develop the city’s festivals. They are such an important part of the city’s economy and its personality that they must not be allowed to wither away.
Councillor Aldridge should establish a Lord Provost’s Commission on the future of Edinburgh’s Festivals. He should bring together leading business people, transport and housing experts, tourist bodies, and of course representatives of each of the festivals, to thrash out a sustainable, long-term plan for Edinburgh to continue to host some of the world’s greatest arts events.
It could look at infrastructure, including accommodation, the festivals’ ties with the people of Edinburgh, and of course funding. This year, for example, is the first time that the International Festival has received cash from the UK Government in its 76-year history. Yet the International Festival is one of Britain’s most important cultural events.
Once the Commission has made its deliberations, it should then present a plan to both the Scottish and UK governments, making sure it includes a long-term commitment to invest in the festivals. There is a tendency for politicians to suggest working groups when they don’t have the wherewithal, or desire, to take practical action, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Edinburgh’s festivals are facing an existential crisis.
The Lord Provost, who represents the interests of the whole city, is best placed to take forward this important piece of work. Indeed, when he accepted his historic chains of office last year, he said he would work “to make sure Edinburgh remains a leading light on the global stage”. There is nothing more important to Edinburgh’s place on that world stage than its festivals. And there is no one better placed to ensure that our city remains a global star than the Lord Provost. Your audience awaits, sir.