It's showtime for the Festivals but is it squeaky board time at RBS?
Plus: More legal strife for Capital's proposed AirBnB ban, Uniqlo is bringing its gear to Princes Street, and the Inquirer gives its smart suggestions for the opening week of the Fest.
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ROLL UP, ROLL UP
IT MIGHT BE NOT BE THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, but if it is not, then it is pretty darn close. It can’t have escaped the attention of anyone who has been in the city centre in recent days that Festival time is here once again. The Fringe officially kicks off on Friday for three-and-a-half weeks of mad-cap brilliance, although many shows will be previewing from Wednesday. With international travel on the rise again, this year’s Festival is widely expected to be the busiest since the pre-Covid days of 2019, bringing a welcome boost for many city businesses.
THE NUMBERS: This year’s Fringe programme features 3,013 shows, in 248 venues, with performers from 68 countries, and includes 308 free shows with a further 463 staged on a ‘pay what you can/want’ basis. The number of shows is slightly down on last year’s 3,171 and more than a fifth fewer than the immediate pre-pandemic height of 3,841.
SUCCESSION PLANS: There will be the usual array of random celebrities to spot including Greta Thunberg, Sir Cliff Richard, Irvine Welsh, film director Ken Loach, and Judy Murray (appearing with her ‘third son Duncan’) and a giggle of comedians led by the likes of Frankie Boyle. One big name not now expected is Succession star Brian Cox who has pulled out of appearing in Alex Salmond’s talk show citing filming commitments.
WHAT’S NEW? The opening event of the International Festival has become one of the highlights of the Festival season in recent years. With no Festival fireworks again this year, Nicola Benedetti has chosen to open her first festival as director with a weekend of free music in Princes Street Gardens. The Opening Fanfare Weekend will feature brass bands and pipers, rappers and choirs, at the Ross Bandstand and on three pop-up stages on Saturday and Sunday (5 and 6 August).
HOT TICKETS: The most talked about shows include The National Theatre of Scotland’s Thrown, dance sensation Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring, and the Grayson Perry retrospective at the National Galleries (Royal Scottish Academy) on the Mound. For the Inquirer’s Opening Salvos top picks, see below.
WELCOME BACK: The international film festival, which has endured a terrible time with the closure of the Film House, makes a welcome return in a limited six-day form on 18-23 August, opening with Silent Road, a teenage love story set in the Outer Hebrides, while those who want the seaside air can head to Fringe by the Sea in North Berwick, from 4-13 August, with over 220 music, comedy, literature and other events. Remember to take your bucket and spade.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
SHORT TERM LETS: Self-caterers in Edinburgh are taking City of Edinburgh Council to a second Judicial Review – this time over their Short Term Let Planning Policy.
Just weeks after the city council’s Licensing Policy on the issue was adjudged to be “unlawful” in parts, the council now faces the prospect of further legal scrutiny and judgement of its planning policy.
The council is introducing the policies because it maintains that the increase in short term lettings has fuelled antisocial behaviour and is a contributory factor to the shortage of affordable housing - claims the sector disputes.
Two local and established self-catering businesses have lodged the latest petition for Judicial Review at the Court of Session. Under the new planning policy, the city has been identified as Scotland’s first short term let “control zone” and this means any property being wholly run for the purpose of short term let will need to apply for change of use. One area likely to be of particular interest during any judicial review is that this will apply to future operators and current hosts – in other words the new legislation has been applied retrospectively to existing businesses.
The previous judicial review into the licensing policy centred on its presumption against allowing entire flats within tenement blocks to be used as holiday lets unless their owners could demonstrate why they should be exempt. Lord Braid ruled that presumption was unlawful, and also ruled that the lack of provision for temporary licences and the requirement for some hosts to supply floor coverings went beyond the council's powers and breached what licensing authorities were legally entitled to do.
The Council has until mid-August to respond to the latest petition. The ongoing debate over the issue will be covered in detail by the Inquirer over the coming weeks…
TAKING FLIGHT: Two welcome developments in the city centre. The Playfair Steps on the Mound have finally reopened after being closed for four years while work was carried out on the National Gallery of Scotland. That will make getting up from the New Town to the High Street a bit easier in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the popular Elm Row pigeons, created by sculptor Shona Kinloch, are back after an even longer absence. The eight beloved bronze birds were taken away for safekeeping during tram works in 2006.
FASHION STAKES: Leading Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo has been confirmed as one of the tenants of the redeveloped former BHS store in a coup for Princes Street. It will be the first store in Scotland for the chain which counts Novak Djokovic, Orlando Bloom and Tom Odell among its fans.
WET AND WILD: An outdoor swimming pool and Britain’s longest artificial ski slope are two of the attractions on the doorstep of a £30 million ‘eco hotel’ planned for Hillend. Plans for a 102-room hotel and 38 ‘eco-suites’ at Calderstone, adjoining the Midlothian Ski Centre, have been lodged with Midlothian Council. Developers Landscape Hotels Ltd say it will be built to the highest environmental standards including extensive use of air source heat pumps and solar panels.
PLAYGROUND HOLE: Pupils and staff of Brunstane Primary School in Edinburgh are to be relocated to other local schools after a sinkhole was discovered in an area of the playground during preparations for energy retrofitting work. The Coal Authority is carrying out remedial work at the school which is built above former Lothian coalmines.
WHAT A RELIEF: Forget spending a penny, the city council is investing a flush £1 million-plus in public toilets. Inverleith Park, Leith Links, the Meadows and Hawes Pier, South Queensferry, are to get new or extra loos, while this summer more than 50 temporary ones are being installed at these three parks as well as Straiton Park, off Porty Prom.
Why the NatWest/Farage Farrago has Edinburgh repercussions
Most Inquirer readers will be unfamiliar with the name Travers Smith, the independent law firm, based at Snow Hill, Farringdon, in central London. The name might be more reminiscent of a character from a 1970s television cowboy series than a cutting-edge legal firm.
While Travers Smith are not one of the ‘Magic Circle’ of law firms – who are all deeply reluctant to litigate against the UK’s banking heavyweights - it is a big ticket deal-making outfit with expertise in the legal aspects of mergers & acquisitions, private equity and corporate restructuring. All corporate bankspeak. The managing partner is Edmund Reed, who has worked for digital commerce platform, Ascential, a listed business.
NatWest bank has commissioned Travers Smith to conduct an inquiry into the latest crisis involving the banking entity, which made £3.6 billion in the six months to June this year, and is still around 40% state owned. The review will look at how the Nigel Farage case was handled by NatWest and Coutts Bank, the private bank which is part of NatWest Group. It could be squeaky bum time for the NatWest board.
ANOTHER UNFORTUNATE CALAMITY
The forced resignations of NatWest’s Dame Alison Rose last Wednesday, and then Coutts Bank boss, Peter Flavel, is another unfortunate calamity for the major UK bank. It’s also a windfall for law firms who have been the major beneficiaries of the UK’s recalcitrant financial services industry in recent years.
The abysmal record of the UK banking industry over the past 20 years has been manna from heaven for the big London law firms. Every call for an inquiry means new work in the legal chambers around Gray’s Inn Road and the numerous corporate firms.
Sir Howard Davies, who was the first chairman of Financial Services Authority, the banking regulator, and chairman of NatWest, has said he is remaining in post until next year, when he is due to retire. His tenure has not been a glorious one. Under his watch, RBS Group, formerly headquartered at Gogarburn, Edinburgh, was renamed the NatWest Group and zoomed off to London. Was this all purely a multi-million PR exercise to hide the bank’s shame?
Travers Smith have been asked to conduct an independent review into how NatWest Group handled the Nigel Farage fiasco, when the private bank account of this attention-seeking Brexiteer became a story of ‘national interest’. Alison Rose admitted sharing a customer’s information with the BBC’s business editor Simon Jack at a BBC dinner in the five-star The Langham Hotel attended by leading business figures. She was wrong to do so - and she fell on her sword.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE REVIEW?
When RBS collapsed after the tenure of Fred Goodwin, we were assured that the arrogance and complacency of the corporate banking culture at RBS was now in check. Since then, we’ve heard much about ESG, gender balance, and NatWest at the forefront of climate change action. RBS in Scotland has been trying to rebuild its reputation since the debacle of Fred Goodwin’s tenure. It has become a positive supporter of many entrepreneurial initiatives and an advocate for climate change and LGBTQ+ rights. Unfortunately, many in Scotland still harbour a grievance about the RBS and the way it dealt with Scottish businesses. There is still a lingering suspicion that the Scottish bank, founded in 1727, is not doing enough to encourage business.
What can we expect from Travers Smith? The outcome will depend on the legal framework which sets its ‘terms of reference’. Such ToR often restrict independent legal enquiries from getting to the root of any given problem. In Edinburgh, we need to know whether NatWest has really changed its spots since the RBS of Goodwin & Co brought ignominy to Edinburgh as a financial centre - or is the toxic reputation which prompted Davies to make the name change still prevalent? The Inquirer awaits the Travers Smith’s report with great interest.
CALLING HOMEOWNERS: Another nerve-jangling week ahead for Edinburgh’s 130,000 homeowners. The Nationwide House Price Survey comes out tomorrow. Static or falling prices have been recorded this year by Nationwide, which is the world’s largest building society and one of the UK’s top three mortgage providers. Will prices continue to fall? Even the famously resilient Edinburgh market is seeing downwards pressure. The latest ESPC report showed falls in Edinburgh and West Lothian, but also recorded rises in East Lothian and Midlothian. On Thursday (3 August) the Bank of England will announce its latest decision on interest rates, with all the indications suggesting a quarter-point rise to 5.25% as the battle against inflation continues. While a drop in the Consumer Prices Index last month, from 8.7% to 7.9%, inflation has remained stubbornly high.
QUALITY AT WORK: It’s clear that Edinburgh’s discerning office workers can be attracted back to the office – provided the surroundings are top flight. Demand for the best office space in the city is still at a fever pitch. With hybrid working increasingly a factor of life, major companies are having to re-think the costs of office rental. However, the flight to quality trend continues to be prominent in the Edinburgh office market, with Grade A office space accounting for nearly 40% of the total transactions during the quarter. Significant deals included the sub-letting at 2 Freer Street to Analogue Devices, while global sports betting and gaming provider Flutter has taken the entire building in Fountainbridge.
Another significant transaction was the pre-letting of 20/21 Charlotte Square to Hampden and Co, the private bank. The serviced office market in the city continues to operate at nearly full occupancy, particularly for top-tier offerings.
“With occupiers increasingly focused on employee satisfaction and how the space contributes to their environmental targets, it’s the best buildings that have attracted the strongest interest with reduced focus on rent,” says Daryl Baxter from CBRE in Edinburgh.
ART HOUSE: Coburg House, a short walk from the Shore in Leith, is a hive of art and artisan activity, housing 53 studios and more than 70 artists, designers and makers over four floors. From Friday evening and over the weekend, they are throwing their doors open for a look at how everything from stunning jewellery to abstract art is created, plus a chance to buy something truly original. (Coburg House, Coburg St, Leith, 4-6 August. www.coburghouse.co.uk)
DEVILISHLY FUN: The return of the brilliant Good Omens to our screens offers another chance to play the ever popular game of ‘spot Edinburgh streets you know and love behind famous actors‘. The Amazon Prime fantasy-comedy will need no introduction to fans of Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, David Tennant (playing the demon Crowley), Martin Sheen and its stellar supporting cast. Shot at Bathgate’s Pyramid film studios and on the streets of the Capital, series two looks set to be another hit. Watch out for the Cask and Barrel in Newington popping up as The Resurrectionist; Inverleith Park; Circus Lane in Stockbridge; parts of the Old Town; and the Castle, surprisingly appearing as though it has moved to somewhere near the top of Arthur’s Seat. (Good Omens, Amazon Prime.)
GREEK GEEKS: There have been long queues along Portobello High Street to sample the latest addition to the burgeoning local food scene. Nixos Greek Street Food offers hot and cold meze, gyros and souvlaki wraps and more to takeaway. Owners Nick and Jenny have taken inspiration from the flavours found in Nick’s home village in Cyprus. If you’re after the full Greek experience, you could combine a visit with a trip to the popular Greek Artisan Pastries at the opposite (west) end of the High Street. (Nixos Greek Street Food, 230A High Street, Portobello. www.nixosgreekstreetfood.co.uk)
CURTAINS UP IN THE CITY
OPENING SALVOS: The Edinburgh International Festival is the first for acclaimed Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti as the Artistic Director. She has singled out three themes for the event taken from the writing of black activist Martin Luther King. These are: Community Over Chaos, Hope in the Face of Adversity and Taking a Different Perspective that is not your own. (Various venues, 4-27 August).
We’ll be picking our highlights over the next three weeks. We’re looking forward to Thrown, created for the National Theatre of Scotland by Nat McCleary and director Johnny McKnight (Traverse Theatre, 3-17 August). It is five different women’s stories from modern Scotland.
A burning hot ticket is for iconic choreographer Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring, which is being reimagined with an all-African cast of 34 dancers from 14 nations in a collaboration between The Pina Bausch Foundation, Sadler’s Wells, the Ecole des Sable, an international centre for traditional and contemporary dance in Dakar. Also by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo, with Common Ground(s). (Edinburgh Playhouse, 17-19 August).
For orchestral buffs, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, in a four concert residency, will tackle Martin Luther King’s question Chaos of Community, with the opening event called A Model For the Future, under the baton of the orchestra’s founder and conductor Ivan Fischer. Expect a breathtaking opening to Mahler’s Ninth. (Usher Hall, 8-10 August).
For Baroque fans, the Jupiter Ensemble under the direction of lute player Thomas Durnford with superstar classical singer Iestyn Davies will be a feast of Handel. (Queen’s Hall, 7 August).
THE FRINGE ON TOP AGAIN: We expect the Edinburgh Fringe to be absolutely bonkers this year. Nothing less. Those escaping from the baking concrete of Spain’s Costas will come and enjoy the gentle drizzle, mild breezes and the occasional outbreak of sunshine. It doesn’t really matter if you have a good umbrella before you dive into the darkness of a thousand shows. We hear that comedy is being overtaken by rock tribute acts this year. Par example: Adele Still Someone Like Me, Le Monde (Dirty Martini, 3-27 August), and The Allman Brothers Project by Safehouse, (Stramash, Cowgate, 10,17,24 August).
Bill Burdett-Coutts, the artistic director of Assembly Festival, is welcoming Afrique en Cirque (Assembly Hall, 3-28 August) and the Kyiv City Ballet among his stable, which includes the stand-up debut of Portobello’s own Gail Porter: Hung, Drawn, and Portered (Assembly George Square Studios, 2-18 August), and Best of the Fest (Assembly Hall, 4,5,6,10,11,12,13,17,18 August) always a superb sampler for top comedy on offer.
We’re very up for seeing Dark Noon, an alternative take on America’s immigrant and slave history, by Nhlanhla Mahlangu, which has intense topical overtone for our convoluted world, (Pleasance at EICC, 2-27 August), and we’re expecting a barrel of laughs from Catherine Cohen: Come for Me (Pleasance, 18,20,25 and 26 August), Ed Byrne: Tragedy Plus Time (Assembly Rooms, 3-13, 15-27 August) and Rhod Gilbert: Work in Progress (Gilded Balloon Teviot, 21-23, 25-27 August).
A WORD FROM A WISE OLD HAND: Veteran arts impresario Richard ‘Ricky’ Demarco – now aged 93 – wishes all performers the best for 2023, but reminds them that the Festivals’ roots came after the terrible losses of the Second World War when millions were searching for new drama and visual art that enriched their lives. He fears too much of today’s festival is about ‘temporary enjoyment’ rather than engaging the heart and touching the soul. His new film Rico from BBC Films, charts his life and is narrated by Brian Cox.
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
Friday to Sunday, August 4-6:
Foodies Festival, Inverleith Park. Annual burger and bun fest with some gourmet trims on the side. (www.foodiesfestival.com)
Saturday, August 5:
Scotland v France, Murrayfield Stadium, 3.15pm. After Scotland’s win against Italy, the squad will be looking for a another pre-World Cup boost.
Friday to Sunday, August 25-27:
Connect Music Festival, Royal Highland Showground, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Fred Again, Boygenius, Loyle Carner, and much more. (www.connectmusicfestival.com)