‘Art made tongue-tied by authority’

Posted by in July's Magazine

Gordon Munro invokes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66 to highlight uncertain times ahead for EIF  

Fergus Linehan is right to point out the impact of cuts to Edinburgh International Festival’s budget by your council. This will impact on programming and given the cuts agenda faced by your council he is also right to say “salami slicing”, meaning cuts to the programme and ‘safe’ programme choices in the future to ensure the finances of the Festival is not an option either.

So this year’s cut has been a long time coming. Between 2012-17 your council made cuts of £240m along with a cut in the workforce of 1446 and has to make further cuts of £150m and an estimated further cut in the workforce of 1700 jobs. 


Audit Scotland in their report on Councils have pointed out that on top of less money the increased cost of Health and Social Care coupled with unfunded Scottish Government priorities and ring fencing education spending means that arts, libraries and core budget services have to take disproportionate budget cuts to meet that cuts agenda. 

The International Festival has done well to escape cuts, maintaining standstill budgets to date, a cut in itself given price and cost increases and given other pressures and impacts to which Pilton Community Health Project and others can testify.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. The Scottish Government made reform of the ‘unfair council tax’ a central plank of their election campaign in 2007. They avoided doing anything about it from 2007-12. It was more difficult to do so in the period 2012-17 which saw a Commission report, the Just Change Report, issued jointly with COSLA (the joint local authorities in Scotland) in 2015. It led to expectation that the next administration would implement change. It hasn’t and recent evidence is that another round of prevarication is the best that will happen in this third term without any prospect of change forthcoming until 2022.

Why does this matter? Because the council tax levied by your Council is predicated on property values from last century, 1st April 1991 to be exact. In a city where the average house price is now £254,000 the top band of Council tax is for properties valued at over £210,000. So this income revenue is antiquated. 

The main source of Council funding is also skewed against Edinburgh. Your council receives the lowest per capita grant settlement from the Scottish Government of all the major cities and has done for two years in a row now. For example in 2018/19 Glasgow receives £2,056 per head of population compared to Edinburgh’s £1,376. 

‘Edinburgh opens its doors to the world’. 1947 Radio Times cover

Before the apologists elsewhere in here carp I would point out that here in Leith where 27% of all people are in poverty it’s about a fairer funding allocation, something Audit Scotland recommend should happen. Not a revival of the inter city rivalry that is ‘so last century’. Fairer funding, and more transparent funding criteria, could halt the cuts agenda.

Another funding source and a new one, could be approving the implementation of a tourist tax. This happens throughout Europe and the USA. Your council has made the case for Edinburgh having this power but Holyrood will not give your city the power. Instead the siren voice of the British Hospitality Association is given precedence over making this happen. 

This year’s cut to EIF shows why it is needed now, not some putative date in the future that may or may not be met. When I was on the Board of Marketing Edinburgh it was thought that money from this source could be used for a mix of Festival programming and infrastructure outside and around key venues, including Hotels.

At the latest AGM of Edinburgh International Festival it was reported that turning Leith Theatre into a venue for EIF saw the audience share increase from 2% of all ticket sales from the EH6 postcode to 25%. Evidence that turning Leith Theatre into a Festival venue was a gamble well worth taking. 

Cutting their budget means that gambles such as this, in both programme and venues, are less likely to happen if ‘salami slicing’ is the strategy the Council adopts. 

The use of Leith Theatre saw an increase of 23% 0n all ticket sales for EIF from the EH6 postcode

However Holyrood could, and should, change the future funding scenario. This city held out a hand to the vanquished after the Second World War that saw Art given primacy in an uncertain post war world. 

That act by Edinburgh Council in 1947 is the foundation stone that has built this city into the place for the world to be in August. To imperil it by disempowering this city is a dereliction of duty. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Choices have been made and choices can be taken. 

To paraphrase Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “O judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men, and women, have lost their reason. Bear with me; my heart is in the coffin there with Local Government. And I must pause till it come back to me.”

Info: www.eif.co.uk/visiting/event-venues/leith-theatre

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