Scottish Government demands advance notice of Westminster arts funding after Fringe HQ row
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Culture minister Christina McKelvie has called for better communication from the UK Government after the Fringe Society was allocated £7 million in last month’s Spring Budget, but can only spend it on its proposed "hub" development.
The Fringe Society has tried to persuade the UK Government to allow it to use some of the funding to help meet the costs of taking shows to Edinburgh from this year and beyond, but has had its efforts rebuffed to date.
Ms McKelvie told the Scottish Parliament she wanted the UK Government to "engage in advance" in future to ensure additional support for the culture sector was "maximised.”
The money allocated to the Fringe Society was the same amount cut from Creative Scotland’s budget by the Scottish Government in December, then reinstated in February after an industry backlash.
The UK Government was criticised in January for rejecting a bid for “Levelling Up” funding from Edinburgh that would have helped pay for long-awaited refurbishment of several arts venues in the city, including the King’s Theatre and Leith Theatre.
Fringe acts and companies were left furious by the allocation of funding to the headquarters project, which has been in the planning since 2017, following repeated pleas for help to offset the rising costs involved in putting on shows, particularly accommodation.
Last week the Fringe Society revealed a Victorian-era primary school building, which is used as a venue for shows every August, was its preferred site for its proposed “community hub”.
There has been confusion over the restrictions on the Fringe funding as the Edinburgh International Festival secured a separate £1.6m boost in the Spring Budget to help pay for UK-based artists to perform at the event.
Ms McKelvie was asked by Conservative MSP Jamie Greene about the Scottish Government’s response to claims by the Fringe Society the event was facing an “existential threat” due to the impact of rising costs on companies, performers and venues, and the recent UK Government funding.
She said: “The Fringe is a top cultural brand in Scotland, attracting global talent every year. The Scottish Government acknowledges the challenges the cultural events sector, including the Fringe, has faced due to the pandemic, Brexit, lower audience numbers and high energy costs.
"To support the Fringe’s resilience and long-term viability, the Government has offered a combination of loans and grants in recognition the importance of the festival to Scotland’s cultural scene.
"We aim to keep working with the Fringe Society and the wider sector to understand how to provide support during these very trying times. We’ve been urging the UK Government to recognise the valuable role Scotland’s culture sector plays to the Scottish and UK economy.
"While this additional funding is welcome, the UK Government needs to engage with us in advance to ensure support is aligned and its impact maximised.
"We do understand that £7m of that award is for capital expenditure to assist the Fringe Society in finding a new home. It is subject to a business case being agreed by the DCMS and we don’t have that yet.”