Trio of inquiries planned for Edinburgh after heated Fringe Society meeting

Edinburgh Festival Fringe is to undergo not one, but three inquiries, following the ticketing fiasco that has dogged this year’s event.

This year’s annual general meeting of the Fringe Society – the body responsible for the overall running of the festival – saw the organisation’s board come under heavy criticism from the floor, with one venue operator calling for its mass resignation.

While this proposition received little support, the meeting did see the election of two of the board’s strongest critics to its membership in venue managers Tommy Sheppard from the Stand and Charlie Wood from the Underbelly. Three existing members retained their seats.

Meanwhile, fringe director Jon Morgan revealed that Pivotal Engineering – the company responsible for the box office system that has caused such trouble at the fringe this year – has gone into administration.

In one of the most heated fringe AGMs ever, Assembly director William Burdett-Coutts was applauded for his assertion that the board had taken the event to the brink of disaster.

He said: “Fundamentally, a very basic flaw has happened that has brought us very close to commercial death and I think the board need to recognise that.”

Board chairman Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill announced that the organisation would now undertake three separate inquiries – into the current ticketing system, which system to use in the future, and a review of the role of the Fringe Society itself.

She explained: “We are going to hold an inquiry into the procurement, commissioning and operation of our new system. This enquiry will be conducted by an independent commercial organisation which will be appointed by an independent steering committee.”

The steering committee will be made up of nominees from the Scottish Government, the City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Arts Council. The report will be published in November.

An independent IT company will also be appointed to investigate the options for a future box office. It will look at the current systems in use and advise on the best options for the fringe for 2009 and beyond. It will report no later than the end of October.

Smith also announced a review of the role of the Fringe Society in the wider context of the fringe as a whole.

According to officials, despite the crisis, the Fringe Society is still in a relatively strong financial position. It faces the costs of the ticketing fiasco with a surplus of £930,849 carried forward from the previous year.

Speaking to The Stage, Morgan denied the society was facing bankruptcy, but admitted that there will be a considerable cost incurred from the crisis. He refused to quantify what level that would be, or the level of compensation, if any, to venues.

Board member Simon Fanshawe claimed that despite the problems of reporting statistics during the festival, reconciliation of the books would be possible.

“It is an issue for the board. We have absolutely penetrated that and the advice is clear that during the period after the festival we are going to be able to reconcile within the normal percentage bounds,” he insisted.

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