UK Budget allocation to the Edinburgh Fringe 2023 – an update from the Board of the Fringe Society
27 March 2023
UK Government funding support for a new Fringe community hub
Last week the UK Government included in its budget announcement investment for Edinburgh’s Festivals. The funding is welcomed and is one positive result from years of seeking recognition for the vital role the Edinburgh Festival Fringe provides to the whole UK creative ecology. The fund is an allocation to the Edinburgh International Festival who will receive £1.6m, and the remaining amount is allocated for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society as capital. The announcement rightly created a huge amount of interest in what it means for the Fringe and the Fringe community. The Fringe Society team have had a series of meetings with various departments of UK Government since the announcement to understand the route and parameters of the offer before sharing this update.
This investment offer from the 2023 budget is a landmark moment in the 75-year story of the Edinburgh Fringe, a first meaningful acknowledgement of its role for Scotland and the UK cultural ecology and international reputation.
The funding for us is restricted to capital and can only be spent on capital – specifically for a new Fringe creative community hub in Edinburgh – for the benefit of the Fringe community and city as a whole, incorporating the services of the Fringe Society during the festival and throughout the year. It is dependent on the Fringe Society creating a full business case and detailed scoping in the coming months, which will be shaped and developed through consultation with Fringe participants, local community and Edinburgh stakeholders. The investment commitment is the first step in a long process – planning and consultation with the Fringe community is now the project’s next priority.
Since 2017, in our published blueprint, and reiterated in our development goals in June 2022, we have been clear on an aspiration to have a central community-based hub, not just to house the small Fringe Society team, but to be something that genuinely benefits the whole Fringe ecosystem. The rationale for this is that we have no open or public-facing space for artists, our community partners, the arts industry and media who come from all over the world, the researchers who want to study the Fringe, the audiences who want to know more and who want to find shows. The Fringe Society is a small charity with a year-round team of around 35 staff who are split across three small medieval buildings, none of which are fit for purpose, with significant carbon and access challenges. We have had this project on our funding ask for a long time, but always as a secondary track to our priority lobbying efforts for the recovery of the Fringe. The potential of capital investment through the levelling up agenda for Edinburgh created a route for this long-held financial ask.
The Fringe Society continues to relentlessly lobby for support on a number of fronts, including every possible route to sourcing more affordable, appropriate and available accommodation for artists, inclusion of the six-week exemptions for primary short-term let licensing, an extension of theatre tax relief for temporary Fringe venues, further funds for the recently announced Keep it Fringe artists' fund, and additional support channels for all participants in the Fringe.
This welcome recognition from UK Government doesn’t mean the lobbying work will stop; we are acutely aware of the enormous challenges facing the whole Fringe community and indeed the wider arts sector, and we will continue in our advocacy for more resource and support across all the vital areas of need. It is our hope that this recognition and investment will help us leverage essential support for the Fringe that isn’t restricted to capital, as we all know that the Fringe, which prides itself on inclusion, feels unaffordable for many, with some Fringe venues and artists on the brink. Despite our frequent multi-layered funding asks, the finance available to us here is restricted capital funds for our community hub – so we are accepting it gratefully and commit to making it an exceptional asset for the Fringe. It has already been acknowledged by UK Government that this capital support is not an answer to all of the challenges, and we will continue to fight for all other areas that require funding to ensure the survival and sustainability of this incredible festival.
The letter of offer from UK Government cites:
"As one of the best-known festivals across the world, the UK Government recognises the significant contribution the Fringe provides in not just supporting performers and artists, but in promoting Scotland on the international stage and showcasing the UK as the premier destination for cultural and creative industries.
"With capital funding support now available, we look forward to helping the Fringe realise their ambition of creating a new central base for artists and performers year-round that will strengthen Scotland’s renowned ‘festival’ economy."
The unique case for support from UK Government
The Fringe is not like any other festival or event. As well as being an open access festival, it promotes some 900 shows from Scotland, showcases from Northern Ireland and Wales, and annually in the region of 2,000 shows from England (2019 figures). It is a unique showcase and performing arts market for all of the UK, and internationally – with 13 international showcases in 2022. The Edinburgh Fringe is an international meeting place, an iconic cultural event for the UK, proudly hosted by Edinburgh. It is a phenomenon and a launchpad for thousands of careers. It is recognised from New York, to Delhi, Australia, Canada, Korea, Taiwan, and across Europe. It would be impossible to invent the Edinburgh Fringe today. It is exceptional because it has grown organically and represents all of the UK in Scotland’s stunning capital city.
In terms of a ticketed global event, the Edinburgh summer Festivals rival a FIFA World Cup, and close to an Olympic Games, yet happen every single year. Because the Fringe has grown organically and has always found a way to adapt, it has never been properly considered, recognised or supported as the significant global event and cultural brand that it represents for Scotland and the UK.
It is not like any other arts festival because the Fringe is a performing arts market – it brings the world’s arts industry and arts media once a year to Edinburgh. They come to review, discover, book, tour, find new work. The Fringe has built this; it is extraordinary; hundreds of the UK’s performing artists, companies, producers, industry de-camp to Edinburgh every summer.
As the Fringe has grown, so too have the services offered by the Fringe Society. To keep costs as low as possible for artists where funding is limited, the Fringe Society subsidises these services to the festival by 40%, raised from donations and sponsorships. Pre-covid we had been consistently making our case to UK Government that the scale, and global reputation that this event creates for the UK, needs proper recognition and support. Post-covid the Edinburgh Fringe model has reached crisis point. The festival’s self-sustaining model is no longer viable for anyone – particularly the Fringe artists and venues.
The recognition from UK Government through capital funding is an important milestone, but is only one part of the ambition for long-term investment, support and acknowledgement that the overall Fringe project needs to reinvent itself for a thriving and sustainable future.