Geoff Ellis, one of Scotland’s foremost events industry pioneers, has described a new tax on events in Glasgow as “complete folly” and a policy that risks losing out to other cities and deterring visitors from coming to the city.

Mr Ellis, the founder of T in the Park and a veteran of the industry, redoubled his criticism of Glasgow City Council’s new environmental levy yesterday during a panel discussion at Scotland’s national events show, EventIt, at Glasgow’s SEC.

The Chief Executive of DF Concerts & Events, which hosts the annual TRSNMT music festival on Glasgow Green – as well as the popular Summer Sessions in Bellahouston Park – said that the extra cost on tickets of up to £2.50 will put up barriers to park events occuring in the city, and may result in them relocating to other places in Scotland. With air passenger duty at Glasgow Airport, Mr Ellis said he calculated the total cost of taxation on city park events visitors flying into the city as £28.50, before they’ve even factored in the cost of accommodation, transport and subsitence.

He said: “In Glasgow, for some reason best known to themselves, Glasgow City Council has introduced another tax on people coming to any event in a public park, [which is] £2.50 per head per day. So a weekend event, whether a charity event that’s got a sponsor, or TRSNMT, the cost now before you buy your ticket before you pay for the hotel and buy your flight it’s going to be £28.50 per head. Why would you come to Glasgow if you’re looking for a place to go and see an event, you’d go to Edinburgh instead; if you’re an event organiser you’re going to go to Stirling or Dundee ahead of Glasgow. So Glasgow’s going to suffer for as long as they put this tax in but that’s to the gain of other cities in Scotland.”

Ellis was in conversation with Brigadier David Allfrey, Chief Executive of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and Chair of the Events & Festivals Industry Group (EFIG), during a lively panel discussion at EventIt on the ‘State of the events and festivals industry in Scotland’. The duo, described as two of the country’s ‘greatest showmen’ for events, discussed everything from industry regulation, taxation, skills, exporting into new markets, competition and security.

But for Mr Ellis, whose company DF Concerts & Events, is preparing for its annual TRSNMT festival on Glasgow Green, and also the Summer Sessions at Bellahouston Park, the single biggest issue facing his company ahead of those events was dealing with the fallout from a recent environmental levy proposal at the city council, which has had to find more than £40m in savings from its annual budget.

During and after the discussion, Mr Ellis indicated that he may even relocate the Summer Sessions event, which attracts 35,000 revellers-a-day, from Glasgow to Dundee or Stirling, where he said it can be up to 15 times cheaper to stage an event. He added: “We’re seeing with Stirling and Dundee that both cities are very keen for us to make use of their assets and the rental prices they’re offering us are far, far less than what Edinburgh and Glasgow do.

He added: “That’s because there’s a need to attract the business in and that’s understandable. But what they’re not doing is putting in additional taxes on top; when I’m looking now at a new event, I’ve been scared off from doing it in Glasgow because it’s it going to cost me probably £4-per-head to do it there and that’s £4 less I’m receiving on the ticket price. So Glasgow’s loss will be Stirling’s gain or Dundee’s gain.”

Stirling had made great use of its ‘city park’ area in front of its castle, where it staged Scottish music legends Runrig during a concert in front of 45,000 fans last August; Dundee, too, has been keen to attract event organisers into its Slessor Gardens site, which is part of a wider strategy to attract events into the rejuvenated waterfront area of the city.

Mr Ellis said it was short-sighted of council officials to try and measure an event solely on a proportion of revenue associated purely with the ticket prices; he said that the intangibles – such as increased spend in bars, restaurants and hotels – would risk be lost also to local businesses if events were not to go ahead.

He said: “I think generally elected members and officers are aware of it but they’re perhaps not aware of it as they should be because – sorry to dwell on Glasgow because it’s a bit of a bugbear at the moment – if there’s less events in Glasgow, which there will be because of this tax on people coming, then there’s less to spend in the city and that’s going to hit the nightclubs, the bars and the shops and the restaurants. And hit hotels, because no one is coming to a city just because they want to stay in a hotel.”

Mr Ellis said also that imposing an additional tax on eventgoers to public park spaces in Glasgow could potentially affect the ability of the city to attract major international events in the future; increasingly cities are engaged in competition to attract the biggest events, with enticement for events organisers and rights holders. 

He said: “Just imagine saying come to Glasgow with your race, your biking event, we can put you on in Bellahouston Park, it’ll be wonderful but by the way we’re going to charge all the participants £2.50 each; if we’ve got anybody coming to spectate we’ll charge them that as well. Or, there’s the presentation from Nottingham or Aberdeen and them saying we want your business and possibly with a cheque as well. Glasgow will lose out there, it’s complete folly.”

Internationally, Brigadier Allfrey spoke of the increasing professionalisation of cities looking to host iconic events, such as the Tattoo. His event will decamp for sunnier climes in October when it plays in front of crowds at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. He said that cities now present multi-agency bids to event organisers. He said: “Sydney is delighted to see us as other cities are because we bring a lot of additionality into the city through food and drink, accommodation and transport. And the events and festivals business across Scotland does the same.”

He added: “I think abroad people have really understood the value of these events and festivals and rather than necessarily judging your worth by how high or low the rents are, a hosting fee is not unusual, internationally, because they know perfectly well that you come to their city there will be several million pounds every single night and they can see the value added; cities like Melbourne or Los Angeles work very, very hard to get big events and I think Scotland could do that a little bit better because as Geoff said right at the beginning, these things are the character of a city.”

Brigadier Allfrey said Scotland should be rightly proud of its national strengths in event hosting and delivery, and its increasing professionalisation through universities offering events and festivals releated courses.

He said: “We really are putting out some tremendous people and I think there’s a great future for our industry. I’d like to see the industry talking more as a cohesive whole; it’s a very disparate industry, everyone’s fiercely competitive. They cut their own ground. I’d like to see that all come together a bit because I think we could work together to overcome some of those common challenges in a better way.”