Edinburgh’s festivals demand immediate end to tougher social distancing rules for culture from ‘oblivious’ Scottish Government

Edinburgh's festivals have attacked the Scottish Government over its controversial Covid curbs on culture - amid warnings more than 7000 jobs are at risk over a refusal to treat them the same as hospitality businesses and sporting events.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 2:25 pm
Updated Friday, 18th June 2021, 5:18 pm

Event organisers have joined forces to demand ministers ease a two metre social distancing rule said to have left “a world recognised Scottish success story stands on the brink.”

They claim long-running businesses will be forced into bankruptcy without “immediate” changes to guidelines which are also much stricter than for events and festivals in England.

Organisers say it is “beyond credibility” that the performers arts are seen as more of a risk to public health than pubs and restaurants in Scotland.

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They say decision-makers seem “oblivious” to anomalies with the current guidelines and the “precarious position” they have left the festivals in, and that there has been a betrayal of trust by the government over its insistence that the arts must operate under tougher distancing rules.

Their frustration has been “intensified” by a controversial fanzone on Glasgow Green created for the European Football Championships. Restrictions have been relaxed for a month-long event described as “low risk” by Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf.

The joint statement – released ahead of a delayed review of the distancing restrictions next week – has been backed by the organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, and the jazz, visual art, science, book, children’s and storytelling festivals.

The statement reads: "We watched and supported the hospitality sector as it fought a long hard battle to secure such one metre restrictions, trusting that the government would ensure such changes could then be fairly applied to cultural venues and events.

The Royal Mile during Edinburgh's summer festivals season. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
The Royal Mile during Edinburgh's summer festivals season. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

"However, that trust now seems misplaced and patience is running out with those who seem oblivious to both the anomalies in the current legislation and the precarious position of the festivals and their supply chain.

"It makes no sense to allow groups of people to eat and drink together and then have to separate to watch live cultural events – and our frustration has been intensified by the apparent special treatment applied to events surrounding the current European Football Championships.

"It’s beyond credibility that our covid-mitigated live events pose a greater risk to public health than the conditions the public is now experiencing in pubs, restaurants, shops and sporting and leisure.

"We’re not seeking special treatment but rather to be treated the same as others, especially the hospitality sector. It is our deep hope that someone at the centre of government will realise that what is required now is one clear set of rules for all.

"Livelihoods within the wider cultural sector are now at stake. Without immediate changes, it is clear that we will see the bankruptcy of many well established and much valued cultural companies and their support businesses, with the probable loss of more than 7000 jobs.

"A sector that has evolved over many decades into a world recognised Scottish success story stands on the brink.”

Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour said: "We’re very much aware that the delay in addressing this anomaly is too late for the summer season for some in the Scottish cultural sector.

"It's so important for this to be fixed as soon as possible as the festivals are the last chance of having a meaningful flagship offer up and running for August. It’s absolutely critical in keeping a creative pipeline going across Scotland.

“All of the discussions that the festivals have had so far with the government have required them to plan on the basis of two metre distancing.

"We were due to hear about a review of that restriction by 7 June and that didn’t happen. We’re now less than eight weeks away from these festivals opening.”

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “I just find it hard to believe that any of this is being driven by science any more.

"If you go into the body of a theatre you have to sit at two metre distancing, but if you go to the bar you can right across from somebody. There doesn’t seen to be any logic behind it.”Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “Edinburgh’s festivals are vital to the city’s economy, to the city’s global status, and they also contribute massively to the mental and emotional health and well-being of its citizens.

"This united plea for support and fairness has to be taken seriously by the Scottish Government which must do all it can to aid the safe return of our cultural events in line with other sectors.”

Garry Clark, development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Edinburgh businesses need all the help they can get this year and that means ensuring that the festivals can attract as many people as possible to the city.

"It’s ludicrous that events are currently subject to different social distancing rules than the hospitality sector and the sooner this is sorted out, the sooner our city and its hard-pressed businesses can benefit.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted there had be no “special treatment” for the Euros.

She said: "None of this is perfect or easy. We will absolutely try to iron out any genuine inconsistencies next week and I will try to explain why certain other things may appear inconsistent but actually there is a rational explanation for them.

“I know it causes people frustration when they see fans celebrating football on Glasgow Green when other things are still restricted.

"But we have a process for allowing certain events to forward if it can demonstrated that they are safe and highly regulated.

"We recognise that people are going to watch the football and enjoy the Euros whatever I say.

"The fanzone is a way of trying to provide an environment for some fans that is highly regulated and safer than, for example, gathering in someone’s house.”

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