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Fringe under scrutiny on approach to half century

Thursday 14th August 2008
Edinburgh Festival cavalcade Courtesy:http://www.dlscouts.ie

According to a Scotland on Sunday report, the shortcomings of the Fringe's new Liquid Box Office system from Pivotal Integration meant that telephone and counter sales were suspended on several occasions and printing problems meant that more than 150,000 tickets were only sent out at the last minute. However, the Edfringe.com website explained that the new system "was launched in June and soon after we encountered a combination of technical problems that resulted in slower than expected processing of ticket purchases".

Faced with a growing backlog, the Fringe turned to an alternative online ticketing system provided by its web support company - but it needed to print tickets out through the Liquid Box Office program. The site says that it will continue to work with Pivotal Integration to address all the issues, but that it will set up an independent review into the ticketing shortcomings when the festival is over.

Laura Mackenzie Stuart, who chairs the Associated Independent Venue Producer, said that the extra costs of implementing a second system and the impact on revenue of the ticketing delays and adverse press coverage had taken the fringe to "a very serious financial position".

Performance group Sweet's director Julian Caddy, responsible for three Edinburgh festival venues said that he and other operators had warned the Fringe Society about risks of implementing a new ticketing system in such a short time scale. Another venue operator complained about the Fringe's "village fete mentality".

Pivotal Integration's directors have kept a low profile. The company has a record in developing fast-track web applications, including a debt management system for local authorities called Liquid Money Advice, which it built in tandem with Dundee-based internet service provider brightsolid. But the disciplines of working with an irregular arts society, and the client's project management skills obviously posed a different kind of challenge for the developers.

The  inquiry will look at both the box-office problems that have been afflicting the Fringe, and also the future of the Fringe Society itself, half a century old next year. The review, which is being organised by a temporary GM, Tim Hawkins, is likely to be a major subject of the Fringe Society AGM, which takes place on Saturday morning.

Usually taking place during the festival, this year it is likely to be particularly important for festival and its director.  Morgan said that the review would not be a "whitewash" but would be carried out as an independent and objective look into the box office crisis.  Hawkins, who has served on the Fringe Society board twice, is not carry-ing out the review, but will appoint the man or woman who will.

It was also reported  that the eventual cost of establishing Creative Scotland, the merger between the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, could run to £7m. A spokesperson for the "transition unit" of Creative Scotland - which does not yet exist - would not confirm or deny the figure, but said that "extensive financial modelling" is currently taking place.

The legislation for establishing Creative Scotland, the Creative Scotland Bill, was voted down in the Scottish Parliament after questions were asked about its financial provisions. It is to be re-introduced in the new parliamentary session.

Public calls for finance
"It is essential that the Fringe Society is properly financed In our view as a small venue at Edinburgh Theatre Arts (St Ninians Comely Bank) we believe part of the review will discover that the Festival Fringe Society did not have enough resources to change box office system After all £330K is not a lot of money for a system that has to run 250 venues and 2008 shows The Scottish Executive and Edinburgh Council should at least take part for the blame for consistantly failing to support sufficiently the largest Arts festival in the world. It is essential that the Fringe Society is properly financed

" In our view as a small venue at Edinburgh Theatre Arts (St Ninians Comely Bank) we believe part of the review will discover that the Festival Fringe Society did not have enough resources to change box office system After all £330K is not a lot of money for a system that has to run 250 venues and 2008 shows. The Scottish Executive and Edinburgh Council should at least take part for the blame for consistantly failing to support sufficiently the largest Arts festival in the world"
Simon Peers, Edinburgh.

Others for self sufficiency
"it is time that Fringe participants really did wake up and smell thecoffee...Edinburgh (and it's less than competent Council) has already had to endure massive cuts in both the charitary and voluntary sectors this year due to a £10m+ black hole in the budget.

"All of the organisations who have endured cuts (and many have had to close down as a result) actually served the community 52 weeks per year, year on year and did, defacto, provide vital 'safety-nets for the less well off in Edinburgh and surrounding areas.

"To ask for more money for the Fringe at a time of rampant inflation, food and fuel increases beyond the pockets of many in the City really does give offence. For too long  every Festival and ''the arts' have complained about 'lack of funding...either run on a commercial basis ( i.e. put your money where your mouth is...or go elsewhere).

"The Fringe was always meant to be just that 'a Fringe' to the main event. I am amazed that in the early days each show did it's own box office and sold it's own tickets... and YES they survived. If the Fringe Venue wants a centralised ticket office they should pay for from the profits they expect to make, not the Public Purse."
Benaryeah, Edinburgh.

Sources: http://www.theherald.co.uk/
http://www.edfringe.com/
http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/

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