The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and the fringe festival that the society operates are independent organisations. Therefore, it is not the role of the Scottish Government to assess their activity. However, following the support of the Scottish Government, especially during the pandemic, I was pleased to see the fringe return in force this year, with just under 2.5 million tickets issued across the festival to approximately 250,000 visitors for more than 3,500 shows.
The member might also wish to note that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society produces an annual report of its activities, which is in the public domain. An initial closing statement on the 2023 fringe festival was published on 28 August, and the 2023 annual report will be published once the relevant data has been collated.
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The Stage showed that the average cost for an adult to stay at the festival for its duration this year was more than £2,000 in Airbnb while, in other cases, about £5,000 had to be spent on accommodation. That situation is only set to get worse next year, once the Scottish National Party-Green short-term let licensing scheme comes into effect. Given that the scheme will put accommodation for next year’s festival at risk and out of the reach of many people, what does the Scottish Government intend to do to support the sector?
Our proposals give licensing authorities powers to strike a balance—a balance that needs to be struck—between the needs and concerns of local communities and the wider economic and tourism benefits of short-term lets. Licensing authorities may consider applications for temporary exemptions for a single continuous period of up to six weeks in each 12-month period, which would allow them to be used for events such as the Edinburgh festival that last a number of weeks. Licensing authorities can also make the temporary exemptions process a light-touch one by offering a reduced fee and a shorter application form and by not applying some of the normally mandatory licence conditions.
A balance must be struck, and we must take that into account with regard to festivals and ensuring that those who want to access and perform at those festivals have the opportunity to do so.
Will the minister be meeting the fringe society soon to discuss the successes and challenges of the most recent festival, including accommodation issues and the short-term let regulations? Will she be working with City of Edinburgh Council to make the temporary six-week exemption as practical and as effective as possible, particularly for those home letting and home sharing?
I know that the Minister for Housing has committed to meeting the festival about that.
Will the minister also advise what work is being done from the Scottish Government’s perspective to support working and touring artists with regard to working and touring visas post-Brexit in order to maintain Scotland’s thriving cultural sector?
The First Minister met the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society on 11 August 2023, and both I and the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture are scheduled to meet Festivals Edinburgh, the umbrella organisation for all 11 festivals—including the Edinburgh festival fringe—in early November.
On Ben Macpherson’s question about visas, we will continue to push the United Kingdom Government to improve visa arrangements for creative professionals. Touring and other such international activities are essential to the business models of many parts of the sector and enrich the diversity of our own cultural scene. Access to and from the European Union simply was not an issue before, but it has been brought about by the disaster that is Brexit, and the long-term solution lies in Scotland being an independent member of the European Union.
The arts and culture sector suffered immensely during the pandemic and is now suffering once more due to economic pressure, which has seen the sad closure of institutions such as the Edinburgh Filmhouse. Although it is now hoped that the Filmhouse will reopen, the same might not be the case for other venues. Will the Scottish Government outline the support that it plans to give the arts and culture sector ahead of next year’s fringe festival and how it will protect Edinburgh’s other iconic venues?
We will work closely with all the festivals. As I have said, I and the cabinet secretary will meet with the festivals organisations in November to pick up on all the points that Foysol Choudhury has raised.
We support all the festivals. For example, one of the events that I visited during the fringe was the made in Scotland programme, which we have been funding through our expo fund since 2008 at an annual average of £513,000, with an additional £550,000 this year.
We are supporting the sector and are meeting it. We will be happy to give an update when we have collated all that information.