Edinburgh festivals raise fresh fears over 2021 comeback unless events are underwritten by Government

Edinburgh's flagship summer festivals have raised fresh doubts over their return this summer amid claims event organisers are facing financial ruin if they are hit by further cancellations this year.

The Usher Hall is one of the main venues used for the Edinburgh International Festival.
The Usher Hall is one of the main venues used for the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe have thrown their weight behind a campaign urging the UK Government to underwrite the return of major cultural events to help protect them from incurring heavy losses if they have to cancel again.

Some of Edinburgh’s best-known festival operators, including Assembly, Summerhall, Underbelly, Laughing Horse, Greenside, Zoo and Sweet have backed a call from Westminster’s culture select committee for help to be offered in line with the £500 million worth of support made available to the film and TV sectors.

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Edinburgh’s main summer events were called off last April in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which also wiped out the city’s winter festivals.

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Fringe venues normally start selling the first tickets for shows in January, while the EIF’s programme launch is normally held in March or April.

Government under-writing is believed to be essential to allow festivals and events later this year to go ahead if the vaccine roll-out is successful.

Some events have warned they may have to be called off within weeks without action from the Government.

A spectacular fireworks display normally heralds the end of Edinburgh's festivals season. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

Campaigners claim the maximum liability for the Treasury would be £1.5 billion if all of this year’s major events end up being wiped out again.

The open letter warns that organisers of events will be unable to repeat the losses they sustained in 2020 with help from the Government to allow to them start planning to make a comeback.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is being being urged to ensure festivals are able to use Government-backed insurance events.

The letter to the Chancellor states: “Planning for this year’s festivals, live performances and events is taking place now, and while the vaccine roll-out is cause for optimism, organisers need confidence that this work and investment will not go to waste.

“Central to that confidence is insurance. Without insurance, the events we know and love simply won’t take place this year—vaccine or no vaccine. Sustaining losses like those we’ve seen in 2020 for another year isn’t an option.

"The Government has backed insurance for the film and television industry to the tune of £500 million. It’s now time to do this for other creative industries.”

A spokesman for the Fringe Society said: “Planning any festival or live performance requires months of work and spending commitments which are needed well ahead of the curtain rising.

"Fringe venues need to be confident they can start planning for potential reopening and the associated costs this entails ahead of August, which in turn will provide greater protection for artists when coordinating and negotiating their relationships with venues.

“The Fringe Society supports this call for the Government underwriting to ensure the successful return of live performance.”

Francesca Hegyi, executive director of the EIF, said: “The lack of available insurance is probably the single biggest issue holding back the festival sector at the moment.

"I would love to see the Government support this country's festivals and help us build confidence amongst performers, audiences and the thousands of people that work in the industry.

"We need to make sure that there is something to look forward to after this devastating pandemic.”

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