A single officer from Scottish Borders Council – and not elected members – sanctioned an extra £15,000 in financial support for last year’s Borders Book Festival (BBF) in Melrose.
A Freedom of Information (FoI) response from the council has also revealed that chief financial officer David Robertson, who made the funding decision, received neither gifts nor hospitality after agreeing the one-off payment.
The cash, which was in addition to the £25,000 which SBC has contributed to the event’s programme for each of the last three years, was to increase the festivals dedicated schools programme.
Mr Roberston also approved another £7,000 as a three-year “business development grant” to the festival, which drew record crowds to the Borders last June.
The response confirms that three councillors – leader David Parker and portfolio holders Sandy Aitchison (education) and Stuart Bell (economic development) – were “aware” of the extra funding decision.
The FoI questioner sought to establish if “any council officer or elected member” had benefited from any hospitality or gifts related to the event and was told: “No hospitality or gifts were received by a council officer.”
On top of the £25,000 grant, which helps with venue rental, printing and advertising/design costs, the reply explains that the £15,000 was “specifically to promote and increase the [festival’s] dedicated schools programme which provided Borders schoolchildren with access to this important literary event ... in this historic year”.
Noting that 1,058 school pupils had attended the 2014 festival, it goes on: “The programme enabled young people aged 16 and 17 who were voting for the first time to engage with the political debate in the Borders.”
The £7,000 grant included provision for the creation of a three-year business development plan and visits to other festivals to “learn from similar events”.
The importance to the festival, which began in 2004, of grants from SBC and Creative Scotland, along with sponsorship from a variety of private sources, is highlighted in the charitable company’s latest audited accounts. Signed off in October and covering the year ending February 28, 2014, the BBF accounts reveal that, out of total revenue of £204,817, £56,525 came from grants and £37,047 from sponsorship, with the balance generated by increased ticket and book sales.
Expenditure over the year, which covered the 2013 festival, was £193,702, but the surplus was wiped out following the decision of the trustees to liquidate their subsidiary company – Lennoxlove Book Festival – and write off its debt to the Borders Book Festival of £15,139, leaving a net deficit of £4,024.
Attendance figures in 2013 hit 14,600, up 16 per cent on the previous year, while the 2014 event, for which accounts are not yet available, saw attendances rise to 17,600.