Edinburgh Fringe 'facing insolvency' after Scottish Government rejects emergency fund application

Simon Johnson
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been cancelled  -  Getty Images Europe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is "facing insolvency" after the SNP government rejected its application for emergency funding, the charity behind it has warned MPs.

In a submission to a Commons inquiry examining the impact of Covid-19 on artists, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society pleaded with the UK Government to intervene.

The Society said it faces a financial black hole of around £1 million after the pandemic forced the cancellation of this year's event, the world's biggest arts festival.

They said it was "inconceivable that the UK's most important cultural festival" was facing "a precarious, fragile and uncertain future."

But the submission said it was "unsuccessful in receiving funds from the Scottish Government’s third sector resilience scheme", which has been set up to help charities and community groups through the pandemic.

Most Fringe venues receive little or no public funding and "fall through the cracks of current government support", it said, meaning they are now facing a combined deficit of around £21 million.

The "catastrophic" cancellation of this year's event could lead to the loss of Edinburgh's status as "the world's leading festival city", it added, along with "significant costs" and "existential consequences."

The Society said the UK Government should copy Germany and Canada by setting up a "specific distress fund" for cultural organisations that operate with a public subsidy of less than 10 per cent.

The Fringe is the largest of the Scottish capital's five August festivals, which together attract audiences of about 4.4 million people.

More than 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries take part in 5,000 events each year, generating more than £200 million for the Scottish economy.

When this year's festivals were cancelled on April 1, Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's Culture Minister, promised to work with them "to ensure they can build on their previous success and return to the stage in 2021."

But the Society's submission said: "The Fringe supports so many creative livelihoods well beyond three weeks in August, and yet the Society finds itself in a situation where, unlike other festivals that are in receipt of public funding, we are facing insolvency."

Maurice Golden, the Scottish Tories' Shadow Economy Minister, said: "It is beyond understanding that the Edinburgh Fringe, the biggest arts festival in the world, has been refused any kind of financial support from the Scottish Government so far.

“There are precious few more important brands to Scotland than the Edinburgh fringe, in terms of economic impact and global awareness.

The Scottish Government has been given billions from the UK Treasury to support businesses and charities through this crisis."

A couple look at show posters in Bristo Square at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Getty Images Europe

The Society tabled a submission to the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee detailing its financial woes.

The cancellation of this year's Fringe led to a shortfall of £1.5 million, it said, a sum since reduced to £1 million after it furloughed 70 per cent of staff and cut the pay of those remaining by 20 per cent. In addition, the Society said it has "stopped all spend" and appealed to the public for donations.

"Many of the artists, producers, venues and the creative sector are facing their own financial hardships and we conservatively estimate that this will be in the region of £21 million," it added.

"Indeed, quite a number of individuals and organisations who attend the Fringe will not recover from this pandemic."

The submission estimated that "potential ticket revenue losses" from this year's cancellation exceed £30 million, which "in most cases" represents more than 70 per cent of total income for artists and venues.

A Fringe Society spokesman said last night that it was "looking at a number of funds to ensure our financial stability."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are in regular contact with all our major international festivals, and remain in close contact with the Fringe Society regarding their current difficulties.

“Working alongside City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland, we are looking into what financial support can be offered. These discussions with the Fringe Society are ongoing and we will consider how all our festivals can safely and productively recover when the public health situation allows.”