Festivals’ plea for funding rethink

CASH-STRAPPED summer festivals have appealed for a fairer funding formula from Scottish Borders Council (SBC).

Both Melrose and Lauder believe the current system – which distributes £82,000 per year based on the size of the community’s population and whether it has a horse cavalcade – should be reconsidered.

And Tuesday’s SBC executive committee deferred making a decision on the grant structure for the next three years after Kelso and District councillor Simon Mountford argued Yetholm’s festival week should also see a funding increase. The financial difficulties facing festivals and common ridings were highlighted in an SBC report presented to councillors, which showed 14 out of 29 events had cash reserves lower than one year’s typical income.

Of that 14, seven had a bank balance that fell below 50 per cent of its annual revenue.

Among the seven struggling festivals is Melrose. Writing to SBC, a spokesman for the June event said its annual accounts showed a loss of more than £1,000, and a bank balance well below £2,000.

Currently, Melrose is ranked third out of seven groups, receiving £3,300 in the last financial year, £6,000 less than section one events such as the Braw Lads Gathering in Galashiels and Hawick Common Riding.

The Melrose Festival spokesman added: “Our case for a change in the method of disbursing grants has been well documented in letters to the SBC over the last 12 years.

“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.”

Elaine Brotherstone, secretary of Lauder Common Riding, which also received £3,300 last year, revealed its committee had the same problems.

Ms Brotherstone, who said Lauder CR’s bank balance currently stands at around £14,000, told us: “It is very difficult to run the ball, for example, as we don’t have a building that we can use such as the towns of Selkirk, Galashiels and Hawick do.

“We have tried previously to argue that the traditional common ridings should get more than the rest of the festivals, because of how old they are.

“We were fortunate that we received a four-figure sum from a wind farm company in sponsorship this year, otherwise we would have run at a loss.”

Arguing Yetholm’s case for more financial support, Councillor Mountford said: “Yetholm is distinct in that it is believed to be the only village of its size – about 600 residents – to have its own annual cavalcade – the Stob Stanes rideout.

“But it only receives the same funding as other similar-sized villages (£500) which do not have a cavalcade. I believe this is unfair because the rideout, which attracts some 150 riders every year, is the largest element of expenditure.

“The financial burden of a cavalcade of 150 riders on a population of 600 is significantly greater than that of a cavalcade of 300 riders on a community of, say, 6,500.”

The SBC report revealed Hawick CR’s year-end balance is the largest of all the events, standing at over £180,000 ahead of its Hornshole quincentenary celebrations in 2014.

And town councillor and provost Ron Smith believes the current formula works well.

He added: “It is clear to all that there is an objective method of calculating the allocation of grants, and I am reluctant to see this pattern tweaked.

“Each town or smaller community could probably make a case for special treatment, and this might well need to be individually negotiated each year. Such uncertainty is no help to anyone.”

SBC leader David Parker agreed. He added: “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.

“The council has always supported our common ridings and festivals, and I have no doubt that we will continue to do so in future. Certainly it would be my aim to ensure that the current levels of funding are maintained.”