UNITE Scotland has “absolutely no faith” that £1.58 million in new public funding for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be given to “decent” employers, according to the trade union’s hospitality organiser.

Announced earlier this week, the Scottish Government will provide £1,580,000 in “resilience funding” to the Fringe Society to help support the festival’s recovery from the Covid pandemic, along with additional cash injections of £250,000 and £270,000 respectively for the International Festival and the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The new financial support follows lobbying from the Fringe Society, which oversees the annual event’s administration and suffered a 100% cut in its direct Creative Scotland funding in 2018.

Commenting, a Fringe Society spokesperson told the Sunday National: “We’re pleased that the Fringe has been awarded £1.58m funding via the Scottish Government’s Platforms for Creative Excellence (PLACE) programme, which will be used to address recovery and resilience across the festival in our 75th anniversary year.

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“£1.275m of this fund will be distributed to eligible Fringe producers, to help build resilience and foster innovation as they emerge from the pandemic.

“Applications for the funding will be considered across four key pillars: fair work, creative programming, risk management and sustainability.

“The awarding panel is being chaired by the Fringe Society and includes the expert advice of Creative Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council and EventScotland. The remaining £305,000 will support the ongoing resilience of the Fringe Society, and includes £55,000 for street events.”

However, the Fringe Society is yet to specify what specific standards of “fair work” will be applied in the allocation and distribution of these funds.

Oli Savage, artistic director of the Greenhouse Theatre – which, as part of the steering group for the Fringe Future report published in February, advocated greater regulation of the Edinburgh Fringe – commented: “The Fringe Society has committed to distributing the majority of this to producers under four key pillars - two of which are fair work and sustainability. We are eagerly awaiting the details of these criteria, and would welcome conversations with the Fringe Society on exactly how these criteria are formed.”

The announcement comes amidst renewed concerns over exploitation and poor working conditions among Fringe workers, following controversy over an advertisement from the well-known Fringe operator C Venues offering unpaid 13-hour shifts and requiring that prospective volunteers provide their own bedding and towels for the temporary accommodation provided.

The National: FREE USE IMAGE..Chief Executive, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, Shona McCarthy...9 May 2016. Picture by JANE BARLOW..© Jane Barlow 2016 {all rights reserved}.janebarlowphotography@gmail.com.m: 07870 152324..

Following earlier criticism of C Venues by Unite Hospitality’s Fair Fringe campaign, Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy (above) said that the organisation “has never had a policy of banning or excluding, whether than be venues, companies or shows”.

However, writing in the Stage earlier this year, McCarthy stated that “there is absolutely no place at the Fringe for exploitation”, adding: “Where any serious breaches of workers’ rights are reported, the Fringe Society will always investigate it fully.

“If illegal practices are found to be happening, we reserve the right to withdraw our services, specifically with inclusion in the programme, the website, promotional materials and ticketing through our box office.”

A 2019 report published by the Fair Fringe campaign ahead of the Fringe to take place prior to the pandemic found that problems of “blatant” exploitation and “terrible” employment rights had persisted, despite the efforts of campaigners. Among other issues, the report found that some Fringe staff are required to work every day, others are given as little as one day off throughout the entire festival, and many employers pay below the minimum wage or bypass workers’ rights by using volunteers.

Commenting on the new funding announcement, Unite Hospitality industrial organiser Bryan Simpson told the Sunday National: “It’s interesting to hear the Fringe Society talk about fair work as a ‘key pillar’ of their judgment and assessment for the distribution of £1.5m of public funding given that they have refused to act when it comes to some of the most exploitation employers at the Fringe.”

Highlighting McCarthy’s recent comments, Simpson said: “To our knowledge, the Fringe Society have never launched any formal investigation into – let alone removed from their programme – any of the exploitative employers publicly called-out, despite detailed reports from Unite and our members who work at the Fringe.

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“It has been the owners of the venues – such as Edinburgh University – who have had to act, rather than the society, who could have used its considerable influence to ostracise such repeat offenders, but have continually chosen not to.”

Simpson continued: “In 2017, after years of reports from workers of shocking and unlawful treatment, we met with Ms McCarthy and asked the Fringe Society if they would follow in the footsteps of Edinburgh City Council and adopt our Fair Fringe Charter, but they refused, stating that they already had a code of practice, which is evidently completely insufficient.

“This is why we have absolutely no faith that this money will be given to decent employers, in accordance with basic principles of fair work.

"Again, we would urge the Fringe Society to adopt and implement the principles of our Fair Fringe Charter as ECC did four years ago, and use these to judge the distribution of £1.5m of taxpayer money to fair employers.”