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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Ross Hunter

Edinburgh book festival 'benefits from exploitation', former staff claim

FORMER members of staff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have said that the charity “profits from the exploitation of its workforce” after a wave of redundancies was announced.

Last week, festival director Nick Barley announced a series of cost-cutting measures that aim to reduce spending by around 25% after a significant drop in ticket and book sales at this year’s festival.

Barley told The Scotsman that a “cocktail of factors” had resulted in the financial underperformance, including a change in consumer habits since the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

He added that redundancies were to be expected as the organisation seeks to reduce staffing costs.

However, speaking to the Sunday National under condition of anonymity, two former members of staff accused the festival of “workplace toxicity” and “organisational failures”.

They said: “A toxic work culture which resulted in extreme burnout was the norm for many years.

“This burnout was grimly referred to internally as being ‘broken’.

“However, staff were asked to stop using the term ‘broken’ when referring to their experience of working at the festival and were accused of exaggerating the detrimental effects of working for the organisation.

“To learn that the book festival is escaping its financial ruin by laying the burden of responsibility on their staff comes as absolutely no surprise.”

They alleged that festival bosses were utilising the difficult financial climate, which has seen the sudden closure of other arts organisations in Edinburgh – including the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and Filmhouse – to mask organisational failures.

They said: “These layoffs mean the lowest-paid employees bear the brunt of the responsibility for management and organisational failures.

“This cycle is depressingly common in every part of the cultural sector, most recently with the collapse of EIFF.

“The casualisation of skilled work has hollowed out our institutions and will hamper future festivals for years to come.”

Barley has been director of the Edinburgh Book Festival since 2009, when bosses were immediately greeted with a Facebook campaign to rescind his appointment after critics labelled him “incompetent”.

Before becoming director of Edinburgh’s renowned literary festival, Barley was executive director of Lighthouse, Scotland’s national centre for architecture and design.

However, during Barley’s tenure, Lighthouse fell into financial difficulty and eventual administration.

A total of 57 people lost their jobs after the government refused to bail out the beleaguered organisation.At the time, Barley said that the Lighthouse’s funding model “worked in the good times but couldn’t survive difficult times”.

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