The impact of the events industry on your doorstep – Edinburgh Festival 2018

There are many different things you are taught as an event organiser, but one ever present is that “big is beautiful” There’s scarcely an events organiser who doesn’t want their small event to grow to epic proportions.

However the size of the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is calling into question its actual “success”

The size of the Edinburgh Festival

Every year Edinburgh, a tiny wee city in a tiny wee country, is the destination for the “World’s largest international arts festival” This is really extraordinary and is something that should make every Scot mightily proud. It’s not just any country that can host a festival of this importance.

Scotland’s capital is only able to host an event of this size because our outstanding artists of today stand on the shoulders of giants.  Would we have Rankin, Welsh or McDermid without Burns, Scott and Spark? Would we have the right to host a cultural festival of this size without artists of this magnitude? But it’s not just our cultural heritage.

The supporting infrastructure filled with skilled and knowledgeable event professionals, audio and visual suppliers, stage set builders, etc. allow this festival to flourish. Without the events industry there is no festival. We build the stage on one of the world’s best backdrops.

A breathtakingly stunning city places Edinburgh apart from many other “wanna be” international art festivals. People visit for the events but……what a stage Edinburgh makes. However, increasingly, year on year, that stage seems to be creaking.

edinburgh international festival complaints

After over seventy years the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe are now woven into the cultural tapestry of Scotland. Its success is our success. However, alongside the plaudits there is failure. The locals are restless.

“If these criticisms aren’t addressed they will mount and the festival will become confirmed as an event that is wholly imported and subjected on people, rather than in any sense hosted” – Mike Small Editor of Bella Caledonia.

As an event organiser who has been involved in organising large international events, I find it hard to argue against any of the 10 points in this Bella Caledonia article. It is thoughtful, deliberate and suggests discussion. It is not laced with rage, as Joyce McMillan suggested in a piece in the Scotsman.

The Perfect Stage

During the 1990s I had occasional trips to Edinburgh and I remember the Festival much like the Hogmanay festivities. They were very manageable for attendees and organisers. International visitors made up a small percentage of the crowd and it was pretty easy to experience Edinburgh, while these events were on, without crashing into either of them. How things have changed.

Both these events are huge, and both not without controversy, especially around working conditions for staff and the use or mis-use of volunteers (as a Living Wage Employer I make my view very clear here); so size brings its own complications. But still we event organisers crave growth.

The Event Organisers’ role

Like every other industry the events industry, in general, strongly believes that big is beautiful. We are a capitalist industry like every other, constantly living with the fear that we have to grow or die.

This leads to ignorance. Like most business people we aren’t trained, educated or in many cases aware that there is a negative impact from the work we do. But for event organisers it’s even more difficult than most for us not to bask in our God like status. Maybe you don’t want a big event in your backyard, but sure as anything your country and your city does!

The ever popular event industry

In many cases – and yes this is true – countries, regions and cities will pay the event organiser of a profitable show a trunk load of money to bring an event to your doorstep. Valencia submitted a bid of €170m to host the Web Summit, so it is no surprise that complaints from locals often meet with the response: “other cities would DIE to be as lucky as you”

We have people volunteering to work for us. They don’t want to be paid, they just want to be able to attend our events for free.

Even when an event makes millions of pounds profit, organisers can still get the Government to pay them to relocate their hugely profitable event.

See, everyone loves us, so should we care about a few locals?

It is with this attitude that many organisers and promoters will view the grievances of some noisy locals. And it’s not just the organisers and promoters who run events during the festival and the fringe, it is an industry wide approach. You can find the same view in any major city in the world.

In Barcelona the city struggles to cope with Europe’s largest tech event Mobile World Congress, but even the socialist mayor was keen to persuade the event to stay.

As an industry we have to first understand the negative impacts we can make and then secondly we have to act.

A call for dialogue

There are genuine concerns in Edinburgh over the size, scale and type of events that Edinburgh now holds. The event industry has to be aware of the negative impacts, and then be involved in solving the problems.

Last year within the ‘Skills needed for organising an event’ blog post on my Gallus Events website I highlighted that “more event planners should be, at least aware, of the “impact”, both positive and negative of our events” but you will struggle to see other event industry types even mention these issues. Many of the Event Associations have a habit of burying their head in the sand. 

It is here that Event Scotland, whose tagline is: Scotland The Perfect Stage, should take some credit.

As part of Visit Scotland, Event Scotland are tasked with increasing tourism to Scotland. They of course actively promote and support the large Edinburgh events but they have a regional focus, offering incentives to launch events outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Scotland needs events to bolster the exceptionally important tourist industry but events have to add value to their locality.

Many event organisers carry out their work in a diligent and meaningful manner, just trying to make a living, like everyone else. I believe for most organisers the issues are around awareness and education, rather than a hell for leather, damn them all approach.

Event organisers and promoters should work with Government agencies, local authorities and local communities to ensure their events are welcome and they must place profit alongside their social and community responsibilities.

I believe the event industry is ready to talk, I just hope it is ready to listen.

Pointless protests and point scoring

There’s no point organising an event if you don’t set objectives. And of course you have to have the right objectives. Often this basic element of any event is missing from the YES movement’s events. 

Saturday’s protest outside BBC HQ attracted around 250 people and saw considerable support on social media – in part down to the ever present Independence Live. But what was the point? Or in event talk, what was the objective of the protest?

BBC Bias Protest at Pacific Quay

It’s no small effort to coordinate a demonstration of this size.  Even as the team behind All Under One Banner (who coordinate some huge and important rallies) cut their event teeth, it’s still a challenge.  I’ve managed over 700 events, so I know organising and attending every event is time you could be spent doing something else!

However if you are going to run an event, the first and most important part is to set and understand the reasons to run the event. I wrote a piece for CommonSpace last year highlighting the importance of this central aspect of an event and as far as the AUOB events play out, it seems to have gone unnoticed.

The first thing to say about the protest at Pacific Quay is that I would have not advised running it at all. However, doing the planning process one objective should have been penned and communicated to all:

“This protest is being organised not against the employees but against the editorial decisions that appear to be strongly biased in favour of Scotland’s place in the Union and also editorial decisions which seen to “do down” Scotland at every turn. We are seeking a meeting with senior representatives of the BBC to express the views of a large number of Scots” 

You have to set an objective this this, otherwise what’s the point?

A pointless protest

Why have people standing outside to listen to a few speeches and wave a few flags unless something meaningful is to come out of it?

Why run an event, if all you are going to do is score a spectacular own goal?

Why look a PR gift horse in the mouth?

The answer is simple: because the event didn’t have the right objectives.

Look again at the objective I suggest and walk through the two possible scenarios:

1. BBC meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias.

Or

2. BBC refuse to meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias. Where’s the PR downside there? It’s a win/win for the movement.

But without objectives we have this:

“We offered the leaders of the protest the opportunity to come in to the building to enter into dialogue with senior managers at BBC Scotland but they declined the offer.”

Made even worse by this:

“I was the person asked and I declined. We don’t want to enter into a dialogue with the BBC to try to repair things…. Do any of you see any buttons up the back of my head? No! We want to see the end of the BBC in Scotland. I hope I made that clear.”

Quotes from the Scotsman

So we have a pointless process and some petty point scoring, which all leads to an own goal for the movement. And I am sure that was not the objective.

A hard Brexit will not be hard for everyone

There isn’t now a scenario where the short to medium term health of the UK economy improves. The lead up to a hard Brexit has already done its damage to a fragile British Economy.

Even the softest Brexit (remaining in the customs union) according to the UK Government’s own figures, and backed up by the first macro analysis of Brexit which was carried out by the Scottish Government, confirms a dire situation. And of course we are heading for a much harder Brexit.

Let’s get one thing clear: a hard Brexit will not be hard for everyone. After the 2008 financial crisis which started the wave of “austerity” across Europe, the wealth of the top 1% has been on an upward trajectory ever since.  With wage growth pretty much stagnant, it is the earnings from assets (the top 10% own almost half of UK wealth) that set this group apart.

As some do better when most do worse, it is clear that for the last ten years we have not in fact, “all been in this together”

A hard Brexit will not be hard for everyone

Most Economists suggest that the Brexit which is likely to play out will be considerably worse than the crash in 2008. Of course the pain will be felt by some, while others will be shielded by their wealth.

This disparity of pain will be obvious to most UK citizens. They will see inflation rise and wages, at best, remain moribund. Not only will the cost of living rise but the quality of life will deteriorate. Things that seemed easy to do, like trips to Europe and common like eating Iberian Ham, will be truly foreign.

Already sparse shelves will empty quickly. Run down roads will worsen. Teachers will be more stressed. Across the whole of society the fabric that holds us together will strain. And this will all exist in the same world where the stock market stays buoyant, executive bonuses stay high and international companies use the falling pound to buy back shares to increase shareholder payouts.

FTSE 100 Brexit
A steady growth that sees those who earn from investments continue to do well.

So how will society function with such obvious levels of disparity and despair? It is simple. We will blame other people and then we will blame ourselves. This is the natural progression of a society irrevocable damaged.

A ‘no deal’ or an exceptionally hard Brexit will lead to a nationwide overdose of Europhobia. The main stream media, with the few exceptions which prove the rule, will be baying for European blood. This kamikaze approach by the Tory Government can only work with the complicit support of the foreign based media owners and their lackeys at the BBC. The song sheet is already being rehearsed.

It will read like a racist playlist:

“We will be in this state because of the unreasonableness of the EU”.

“The Irish, the Irish, our supposed friends have been the worse. Those thick Irish.”

“The Germans have been waiting 70 years to get back at us”

“Isn’t it time to send those Poles back?”

I shudder to think of the racist riffs and bigoted melodies that will be played by The Mail and The Express.

Open veins of the U.K

In those long sought after trade deals we will find new enemies. The reality of international trade will all too quickly play out. When two Nations play this game the larger holds all the cards. The UK will be dwarfed by scores of Countries as it seeks an impossible “level playing field”: in international trade it does not and has not ever existed.

The UK will find the conditions will be like the ones they set for South American countries in the nineteen century when Great Britain blockaded their ports, banned domestic production and flooded their markets with cheap produce then, of course, racketed up the price.

It will be pay back time for Nations across the globe. The “Open Veins of Great Britain” will give the xenophobes new life, especially when former colonies truly rebel, “The Indians, the Indians, our supposed friends have been the worse”

But of course the blaming of others can only last for so long. Soon enough we will run out of headlines and Nations to attack.

It will become harder to blame others, so we will naturally and easily blame ourselves. Like a recalcitrant skelf our anger will sit just under our skin and we will scratch and scratch until we bleed.

A new double album of material will be released by the UK Government and welcomed by their super fans in the Great British Press. We Brits Are A Lazy Bunch will be accompanied by Our Economy Needs Modernising.

The scene has been set with the ever increasing focus on “Productivity” over the last few years. The UK economy is the least productive in the G7 countries (by a big margin) and it has nothing to do with laziness.

So it’s easy to find alternative facts to evidence that this is down to the lazy Brits attitude and application to work rather than the short term nature of investment and the sucking of profits offshore. “If you want things to improve you have to work harder AND longer” will underpin the discussions on the UK’s productivity.

In a worsening economy it’s not a large leap for this to take a much darker turn, “Maybe YOU are working hard, but the person next to you isn’t” With that, the societal descent will be almost complete.

Disaster Capitalism

The final piece of the absurd national catharsis will be to blame our institutions. Modernisation will be super changed as a sense of national panic, built by the Government and willingly supported by the media, will take the sacred cows into the slaughter house.

With trade deals will come the opening up of the entire British state. Liam Fox and his bunch of buccaneers will be courting American multi nationals to run every facet of the UK economy. The 1% will see wonderful new investment opportunities and will be in on the ground floor.

The USA is the promised land for these charlatans. They look on the shallowness of the state and go misty eyed. They see the state retreat from every aspect of life and mirror in that a dreamscape for the UK.

In a short few years after a hard Brexit the neoliberal ideal will be realised in Great Britain. Disaster capitalism will rule.

The state will shrink. The common wealth will be in private hands. Taxation will be low.

America will finally have its GREAT 51st state. And most of us will have nothing at all.