Festival cash boost for Yetholm, but Melrose will face another tough year

A COUNCIL grant fund of more than £82,000 will be available to local festivals for each of the next three years, but there has been no change to the method of allocating the cash, despite continued appeals from Melrose Festival organisers.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council (SBC) last week, members agreed to hand out grants of between £150 and £9,300 to the organisers of 28 local festivals, from an overall pot of £82,360.

Yetholm Festival Week will receive an increased grant from the council of £775, but there will be no further changes to the allocation of the grant money.

Since 2005 the council’s funding for local festivals has been based on population and whether or not the event includes a horse cavalcade.

However, until last week, an anomaly had been Yetholm Festival Week, which includes the Stobstaines rideout, as it did not receive any additional funding for having the rideout element.

The additional funding was welcomed by Councillor Simon Mountford, who represents the Kelso and District ward. He told the meeting: “This increased grant will be much appreciated in Yetholm.”

At the end of last year, SBC consulted with festival organisers on the funding scheme, and the organisers of Melrose Festival put forward their case for a change in the distribution of the funding in their response.

A festival spokesperson said: “Like Lauder, we find ourselves at a severe disadvantage in not having a suitable public building or hotel big enough to stage some of our main events: events which are necessary and without which the festival would surely cease.

“We have to pay for a large marquee costing nearly £5,000 every year. This is a very heavy burden and one which should, we think, be taken into consideration when deciding levels of 
grant.”

Melrose said that funding the annual festivities was becoming “more and more difficult”, with increased reliance on patrons.

Following the consultation, SBC leader David Parker said: “We have reviewed the funding formula on a number of occasions, but have not been able to identify any other way of assessing what funding should be provided.

“Our analysis suggests that the funding formula is fair to all the festivals and communities, and I am not sure how you could create a formula that assessed facilities in any given community.”

At Thursday’s meeting of the council, Councillor Stuart Marshall, chairman of Hawick Common Riding Committee, acknowledged that some organisers had access to larger reserves than others.

Fourteen of the festivals made a loss last year, with 20 having made a loss in at least one year from 2009/10.

He told the meeting: “It is very important to this community that the council serves to keep supporting these events, but it is fair to say that some common ridings and festivals are in much better financial health than others.”

The Hawick Common Riding organisers reported a year-end balance of £180,622 in 2011/12, compared with just £3,163 at Melrose, but will continue to receive £6,000 a year more than Melrose Festival from SBC.

However, in their consultation response, a Hawick spokesman said: “The SBC grant is crucial to the continued success of our celebrations.

“The committee now finances and arranges functions which were previously the responsibility of the local authority and this grant helps towards this.”

He added: “At the moment we have a healthy bank balance, due to prudent housekeeping and the work of many volunteers. However, as recently as the 1990s we were in deficit and in 2001 had a bank balance of only just over £3,000.”

Councillor Marshall reiterated this at last week’s meeting, adding that it costs upwards of £80,000 a year to put on the festivities, much of which actually went back to the council through payments for various services.

He added: “Next year, we will hand over a £70,000 statue to the townsfolk to commemorate the town’s celebration.

“The very survival of our festival depends very heavily on grants such as this one.”

The Hawick Common Riding Committee will have significant extra expenditure next year, with additional celebrations to mark the quincentenary of the capture of the flag at Hornshole.

At last week’s meeting councillors agreed to the removal of funding for Reston Gala Weekend, which is no longer taking place.