It’s August again, and many of the city’s residents and visitors are enjoying the Festivals. But, like so much else in our society, access to culture is unequal. As residents and venues battle the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, the price of a ticket can be a major barrier.
Free and reduced access tickets have a long history at the Fringe, and the growth of the Free Fringe is a fantastic development, as is the new Community Tickets Scheme, offering tickets donated by artists and organisers to people experiencing barriers to attending the festivals.
And with the coming Transient Visitor Levy, known as the ‘tourist tax’, there will be funds available for the council to invest in this work further. I was pleased to see the adoption of Green plans to ensure that some proceeds are invested in small festivals and events, free tickets for local people and supporting events with high environmental and employment standards.
Our efforts to ensure the proceeds contribute to tackling climate change were also approved, but we were disappointed that no other parties shared our view that promoting sustainable tourism for community benefit – for everyone in Edinburgh – is more important than subsiding industry marketing and PR.
We need to do more, and not just in August, where the council has direct leverage to require free and discounted tickets, and it should be using it more. Last year, I was angered to see a large event happening in a council park in an area of the city with high levels of child poverty charging almost £30 a child.
As the park owner, the council could have demanded that the organiser help people to attend who might not be able to afford to do so. I have put this proposal to the council, and officers are now developing proposals on how event providers, where appropriate, can be made to offer these tickets when they use a council venue.
Where an event is run on behalf of the council, such as the Christmas and Hogmanay events, it should make the same requirements. Only one other party supported the Green plan to do this as part of the new Winter Festivals contract, but I am hoping that the new provider can be persuaded to do so through other means.
Even where the council has no direct power, such as concerts at Murrayfield, some similar softer engagement from the council with artists and concert promoters may still be successful in opening up free and low-cost opportunities to attend.
We also need to do better in making people aware of the free and reduced-price tickets that are available, and so it is great the council has accepted another Green proposal to create a council webpage to signpost that information, and I thank council officers for their work on that.
Unless we ensure culture in our city is accessible and sustainable, we cannot truly be a leading cultural city. I am glad Greens in the council are working hard on this vision.