Edinburgh’s festivals make lots of promises that sound empty – Kevin Buckle

We keep being told the city’s festivals have a positive impact, but where is the proof, asks Kevin Buckle

Saturday, 16th November 2019, 6:00 am
Crowds pack into Princes Street Gardens for the Christmas market. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Crowds pack into Princes Street Gardens for the Christmas market. Picture: Ian Georgeson

While I welcome councillors promising to take a closer look at Underbelly’s finances it has to be said that there are many more organisations and businesses that need their promises and finances examined.

One of the classic pitches that is made is an event or idea will help local businesses. Many are arts-based and when a report comes back there is a lot about the events and nothing about their impact on businesses.

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Underbelly of course give out many figures but are rarely questioned as to how those figures are arrived at. The economic impact of, say, their Christmas festivities is quoted as £113 million but I doubt there is a councillor who can explain how that figure was arrived at.

For instance, much of any economic impact is people booking accommodation which bears no relation to the high street’s issues but is often a figure quoted in that context. Of course in Underbelly’s case they also bring in a multitude of traders to take business from Edinburgh’s businesses.

Similarly Underbelly are very keen to point out locals are entitled to discounted Hogmanay tickets but actually more than half have to pay the full price as discount tickets are capped at 10,000 while the whole event is limited to 60,000 tickets.

I was interested to hear Underbelly tell council that Hogmanay had lost £322,000 over the last two years which they had magnanimously covered themselves. Of course Hogmanay’s “huge loss” is why Christmas has to be so commercial we are told, but actually just adding £3 to a ticket would cover this loss. Given the price of concert tickets and football matches some would say the tickets should be far higher and the event show a good profit. A cynic might think that making a loss at Hogmanay suits Underbelly in justifying its Christmas activities.

Underbelly are by no means the only company that needs looking at. On the same bill at the culture and communities meeting last Tuesday was the Burns and Beyond Festival run by Unique Events.

This event needs a mere £50,000 from the council and last year promised it would help bring people to Edinburgh in a quiet month and – surprise, surprise – bring sales to those struggling local high street businesses.

I therefore looked forward to the report on how successful Burns and Beyond had been with these laudable aims. Funnily enough, though there wasplenty of talk about the events from last year and what was planned this year there was nothing about extra visitor numbers and improved business sales.

It seemed odd that only now was there a report for a January initiative, especially as they wanted another £50,000. However, to my surprise it turned out that they had already been promised the money. When questioned about this it turned out that because the report was so late in order to secure all the funding in time for this year the decision had to be made under the now well-known phrase “delegated authority”.

After the Christmas market fiasco this touched a raw nerve with some councillors, even though they felt it would have been approved, but again there was no mention of last year’s promise of helping local businesses.

It has to be hoped that councillors have now learned their lesson and will not only look more closely at how figures are calculated but also question whether initial promises are met.