Edinburgh Fringe producer at risk of collapse after Coventry's City of Culture Trust went into administration

As the Edinburgh Fringe ends, one of the festival’s biggest producers is at risk of collapse after Coventry's City of Culture Trust went into administration while owing them nearly £1.5m.

Edinburgh Fringe producer Assembly Festival say they are surviving on a short-term loan after the Coventry City of Culture Trust commissioned them to create a pop-up space and went into administration in February owing them £1,476,550 (£419,000 is VAT).

Running for two summers in 2021 and 2022 as part of the City of Culture celebrations, Assembly put on 140 shows and hosted up to 500,000 visitors through the pop-up site called Assembly Festival Garden in Coventry.

Speaking to Sky News, Assembly's artistic director William Burdett-Coutts said now the trust has collapsed their future is in jeopardy.

"I will post a set of accounts for this 2022 year of the loss of over £1m and that is a major hit for any company... it will mean the end if we don't get that money," he said.

And this could spell trouble for Edinburgh Fringe as a whole, Assembly is considered one of the 'big four' producers and accounts for nearly a fifth of the festival.

Mr Burdett-Coutts added: "Here in Edinburgh, we will have, I think, done 360,000 tickets to this festival. And the overall Fringe will have done just over two million. So, we're about 20% of the entire festival here.

"Put it in context, we're the scale of Wimbledon or bigger than Glastonbury. So, you know, there would be a major hole if we didn't continue."

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Who should be responsible for paying back debtors?

The Coventry City of Culture Trust is an independent charity set up to run legacy projects of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) UK City of Culture competition.

The DCMS awarded £22.8m to the trust which was administered through organisations including Arts Council England, the National Lottery Community Fund and National Lottery Heritage Fund.

In a report seen by Sky News the National Audit Office said the trust also generated income from sponsors and ticket sales for events and a further £10m of funding was provided to Coventry City Council to support Coventry's year as UK City of Culture (£9.6m funded by central government and £400,000 from the National Lottery).

So with so many people handling the purse strings who should be responsible for paying back creditors?

Scottish minister for culture asked culture secretary for assistance

In a letter seen by Sky News, the Scottish Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Christina McKelvie, wrote to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer asking for assistance.

"This trust was completely funded and overseen and supported by the UK government. Therefore, the UK government are responsible for any debts that have arisen because of the collapse of this trust," the Scottish MP told Sky News, adding the impact of losing Assembly Festivals would be global.

"You're talking about a quarter of all of the festival activities that have happened over the month of August and the planning and organisation that goes into that for a whole year ahead as well, losing Assembly Festival from that group, a key pillar of our festivals will be absolutely devastating to Edinburgh, its festivals and international standing on that issue too."

When asked about the Scottish minister's letter a spokesperson for the DCMS told Sky News: "Despite the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic, Coventry delivered a highly successful programme backed by the largest government funding award to date for a UK City of Culture.

"It helped the city secure £172.6m of investment - helping to transform, restore and redevelop many of its major cultural assets."

Future of Assembly Festival in doubt

But didn't confirm when they would respond to the Scottish government or if they intended to repay the money and administrators acting on behalf of the Trust also declined to comment.

This despite an estimated outstanding debt of £4.25m in total to organisations including The Albany Theatre, West Midlands Police and Coventry Council.

But its biggest creditor is Assembly Festival and as the last night of performances has taken place its future and nearly a fifth of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is in doubt. But as it stands no one appears to be picking up the bill.