Exclusive:Edinburgh International Festival warns it is being 'stretched to breaking point' after years of funding cuts

Chief executive admits event’s competitive edge is being ‘eroded’

Organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival have warned that it is being “stretched to breaking point” by the impact of dwindling public funding as they called for a rethink of support to ensure its long-term future.

Chief executive Francesca Hegyi has admitted the event is losing its competitiveness against rival festivals around the world after suffering “real terms” of around 41 per cent since 2009.

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She has admitted that the festival is struggling to balance demands to attract the best talent to the event, pay artists and staff what they are worth, and keep ticket prices down.

And Ms Hegyi said there was a need for a “fundamental reset” on public funding "to ensure Scotland’s world-leading festivals don’t just become a memory.”

The festival has also questioned the level of support from the Scottish Government on a one-off cycling event being staged across Scotland while Edinburgh’s festivals are running.

The EIF gets more than £5 million a year from the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and Edinburgh City Council, which collectively fund Edinburgh’s festivals to the tune of around £11 million.

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However the government has committed £36 million towards the first UCI Cycling World Championships.

Ms Hegyi described that level of support as “public investment that festivals can only dream of when arts organisations up and down the country have been told for over a decade that the cupboard is bare.”

Recent research found that last year’s Edinburgh festivals attracted a 3.2 million-strong audience, were worth £492 million to the local economy and supported more than 7000 jobs.

However umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh said years of “declining investment” had left them “hanging by a precarious financial thread.”

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Writing in Scotland on Sunday on the EIF’s opening weekend, Ms Hegyi said: “The reality is that we are now stretched to breaking point.

“Since 2009 public sector funding has been cut in real terms by 41 per cent, yet each year we are asked to do more with less.

“Our incredibly generous donors and supporters have stepped up, but we need the committed support of the Scottish Government, the city of Edinburgh and Creative Scotland to also be proud of what they founded and have enabled to flourish over the last 76 years and support our, and therefore Scotland’s, future.

“It’s difficult to understand the strategy of cutting back support to the festivals when their contribution is so profound. Put simply, for every £1 of public money invested in Edinburgh’s festivals £33 is generated in return.

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"When you consider this collective effort achieved an annual audience of 3.2m in 2022, on par with the Men’s FIFA World Cup, it demonstrates why any country would jump at the chance to have what we do on our doorstep.

“We are held up as a beacon of excellence, with numerous cities around the world sending delegations to find out how we stage such an iconic event, and it’s sad to share with them that public investment hasn’t kept pace with our UK or international peers.

"World-class festivals in Aix, Avignon, Bayreuth and Manchester receive multiples of the levels of our public investment, meaning our international competitiveness is being eroded year after year.

"This pressure is compounded by the challenges we all face from inflation and the desire to treat those who work in our festivals fairly.

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"To attract the best talent, and pay artists and staff what they’re worth, we’re under pressure to maximise our income from ticket sales, while meeting expectations around affordability for a broad public.”

Culture secretary Angus Robertson said: “I recognise the sector’s recovery has been slower than other aspects of the Scottish economy, which is in part due to reduced audience numbers following the pandemic and the effects of the ongoing cost of living crisis.

"Whilst our ability to provide further support is constrained as a result of the difficult budgetary choices we’ve had to make this year due to UK Government cuts, we remain committed to supporting Scotland’s culture sector and we will continue to work with the sector to identify barriers to recovery, and innovative solutions to protect jobs and businesses.”

A spokesman for Creative Scotland said: “The Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh’s festivals as a whole, and festivals across the length and breadth of Scotland, are enormously important to the cultural, social and economic success of the country.

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“The Edinburgh International Festival has been Creative Scotland’s single largest revenue funded organisation, by some margin, for over 10 years.

"It has not seen direct funding cuts, but we do recognise that increased costs and standstill funding are putting unprecedented pressures on all arts organisations.

“We continue to advocate for increased funding for culture and creativity in Scotland, both publicly, by promoting the work that we fund and the value that it delivers for Scotland’s people, and in terms of ongoing dialogue with Scottish Government, policymakers and other stakeholders.“

Val Walker, culture convener at the city council, said: “We’re rightfully proud of our world-leading festivals programme and remain committed in our support.

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“However, it must be noted that the council, along with local authorities across the country, are operating under significant financial constraints which means we have to take a responsible and measured approach to spending.

"Per-capita, Edinburgh remains the lowest funded local authority in Scotland, which has a major impact on the way we carry out our services.

"We remain open to discussions with both the Scottish and UK Governments on ways this can be remedied.

“We’ve also been consistent in calling for a vistor levy to be introduced in Edinburgh for many years.

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"Whilst we take pride that Edinburgh is one of the world’s most popular visitor destinations, we’re equally conscious that this success comes at a cost for our residents and businesses.

"We believe it’s right to ask visitors to make a small contribution to help us sustain and improve our tourism sector, including our fantastic festivals, whilst responsibly managing the impacts of these.

“Our festivals are an integral part of the DNA of our city and we will continue to do everything within our power to make sure they succeed.”