Tourism and events bosses have issued a rallying call after Edinburgh City Council proposed savage budget cuts that will leave the capital as the “only major city in the developed world without a destination marketing management organisation”.

Under consultation proposals launched by the council, Marketing Edinburgh will be subject to a £790,000 cut over the next two years as part of wider plans to reduce the council’s budget, with a £41m saving needing to be made next year alone.

The sum represents an 89% cut of a total budget for Marketing Edinburgh, which includes its conference arm – Convention Edinburgh – and leaves the organisation reduced to a virtual shell.

In an impassioned plea today, Marketing Edinburgh asked for public and industry support via a council consultation feedback portal; and an Open Letter, signed by over 20 Members of ME, said: “The proposal – if passed – will go live in a little over eight weeks, leaving Edinburgh as the only major city in the developed world without a destination marketing management organisation. This is despite Marketing Edinburgh having demonstrated they return £99 to the local economy for every pound spent by them. It ignores their central role in the £74 million business tourism and £16m film promotion economies.” 

Among the signatories are leading branding agencies behind campaigns for Calmac, Tennent’s, VisitScotland, ScotRail, Baxters, T in the Park and the Royal Highland Show – all of whom have spoken out against the targeting of Marketing Edinburgh.

Economist and former MSP Andrew Wilson, who wrote the Scottish Government’s Growth Commission Report, spoke recently at the city’s Edinburgh Dialogues event to make the case for increasing public expenditure on marketing and promotion – citing the case of New Zealand which is a similar size to Scotland but spends ten times more on promoting its brand.

In response to the latest proposal, he said: “I completely understand the financial constraints councils face. But cutting our promotion to the world risks cutting the very muscle we need to grow and succeed. Somehow, we need long term gain to beat short term saving. We need this more than ever. We should be at the forefront of world cities not the back of the queue.”

The proposal is potentially a major embarrassment to the city of Edinburgh, which is due to host a conference aimed at city promotion bosses from across Europe in just two weeks’ time. The European Cities Marketing spring meeting – which will take place at The Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa – will see around 175 senior destination leaders from cities across the continent gather in Edinburgh on 13-15 February to discuss key events and tourism issues such as destination management and future travel trends.

Ironically, in a co-written piece in the programme notes, Marketing Edinburgh boss John Donnelly describes the risks for cities in hosting major events, with many destinations now reining back their activities in the market. In the op-ed with Dieter Hardt-Stremayr, President, European Cities Marketing, they write: “Yet, as it turns out, the major events business can also be a minefield of public dispute and an ugly waste of taxpayers’ money. For host cities, major events in culture, commerce, science or sports have become a complex and high-risk business with many pitfalls and diverse stakeholder interests.”

The proposals were outlined in the council’s Change Strategy 2019-2023 which states: “The final budget settlement we will receive for 2019-20 is yet to be determined by Parliament, but we already have a good indication that we will need to save up to £41 million next year, and around £147 million over the next four years. These are higher figures than we originally anticipated, and higher than those included in our Change Strategy consultation document: Planning for Change and Delivering Services, which we issued last August.”

The report says that overall the council’s revenue budget, which was almost £1bn in 2018/19 will “increase” in 2019/20, reflecting national commitments to schemes like doubling hours for early years childcare provision; however, resources for ‘core services’ will reduce by around £18m.

Recognising “hard choices” to be made, the detail of the proposals sets out plans to review a number of council functions including ‘arms length organisations’ (ALEOs), and specifies a “very significant grant reduction” to Marketing Edinburgh over the next two years.

Detail from the proposed consultation, below, which is due to be reviewed by the Finance and Resources Committee at a meeting on Friday.