Casinos tax plan to fund Festival - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

A TAX on hotels and casinos in the Capital has been proposed as a funding solution for the cash-strapped International Festival.

The controversial idea will be included in a wide-ranging report on the future of the Festival, which was this year bailed out with £600,000 from the city council and the Scottish Executive.

Organisers of the flagship event have admitted the cash crisis will continue to engulf the programme in future years unless major new investment can be found.

A bed tax could see visitors to the city pay a supplementary charge for a room in a hotel or guest house while the Festival is running.

And a local tax system targeted at the city’s five casinos, which enjoy a bumper trade during the summer months, could see them pay more money based on the amount of profit they make.

Festival director Sir Brian McMaster is set to meet Tourism Minister Patricia Ferguson next Thursday to ask for more money - but so far the Executive has been unwilling to dig deeper.

Councillors are keen to secure assurances on the future of the event based on the findings of the new study, which is expected to detail a ten-year plan for the International Festival.

Due in the autumn, the council’s Thundering Hooves report is likely to recommend major investment from the Executive and its agencies, as well as from bodies like the city council itself and Scottish Enterprise.

But an official from Edinburgh’s culture and leisure department has revealed that a tax on Festival visitors will also be proposed in the study.

The controversial comments were made during a grilling of tourism chiefs at a council scrutiny panel.

Lynne Halfpenny, head of museum and arts at the council, said: "The report will look to see if there are other options in terms of income. A bed tax levy and a casino tax levy will be looked at."

The bed tax could see visitors to the city pay a supplementary charge for a room in a hotel or guest house. Edinburgh Council, which currently ploughs more than £1.8 million into the main summer festivals and events, has already been forced to give the International Festival £300,000 after organisers warned they faced having to scale down their programme. The Executive made up the rest of the £600,00 deficit.

But Sue Tritton, Lib Dem councillor for Merchiston, said her constituents are angry about the level of council tax expenditure on the summer events.

"We put a lot into the festivals and the economic benefits can be seen across the city in pubs, hotels and restaurants.

"But we don’t get much back in return from these groups," she said.

Simon Williams, chairman of the Edinburgh Principal Hotel Association, said: "We would have concerns about a bed tax. Visitors coming to Edinburgh are here for both leisure and business, and some people are straight in and out of the city."

The city council’s culture spokesman, Ricky Henderson, said:

"It can be frustrating that we get left to find the funding and we don’t see any tangible contribution coming back to the council."

THE FACTS

THE Edinburgh International Festival was founded in 1947 and has earned a reputation as one of the world’s greatest celebrations of the arts.

• The founders of the Festival believed that the programmes should be of the highest possible standard presented by the best artists in the world, with the aim of enlivening and enriching the cultural life of Europe, Britain and Scotland.

• The Festival usually takes place over three weeks in late summer using all the major concert and theatre venues.

• The 2004 Festival had 160 performances of 85 different productions including three world premieres.

• Most of the audience come from the city and surrounding areas, with around 17 per cent coming from overseas.

• The Festival has spawned the Fringe, the Military Tattoo, Jazz Festival, Film Festival and Book Festival. A survey showed these festivals generate £135 million for the Capital economy and sustain 4000 jobs in Scotland.

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