Edinburgh Fringe App ‘will be back in 2023’

But organisers are more vague about tackling accommodation crisis

The Edinburgh Fringe app will be back next year, organisers have vowed, after causing outrage by dropping the service to save money.

New research from the society which co-ordinates the festival found that 71 per cent of performers said the app was ‘very important’ to them.

The software was dropped for the 2022 Fringe, although comedians and producers were not officially told of the move. Its absence only emerged in response to a festival-goers’ question on Twitter a month before the festival kicked off.

The debacle promoted performers union Equity to demand a refund of some of the registration fee paid by productions. Under-fire Fringe chief executive Shona McCarthy said that post-Covid, there was no budget to cover the £100,000 it would have cost to develop and said as protests grew: ‘I apologise unreservedly for the distress that this has clearly caused.’

As the Festival Fringe Society releases its review of 2022, it has revealed that work on the 2023 app is ‘already under way’ promising  that details on its functionality and launch timings will be announced in the new year. One of the main  features of the old app was to find shows starting nearby imminently.

The society’s survey also found that 46 per cent of audience members felt an app would have improved their Fringe experience, with 66 per cent stating they would use it in the future.

A bigger issue than the app, however, is the cost of staying in Edinburgh during August, a problem that has been exacerbated by recent law changes that make it harder for landlords to release student digs for the month.  The city council is also introducing ever-tighter rules to curb short-term holiday lets and return thousands of properties to residential use, despite fears the policies will damage the tourist trade.

The Fringe survey, which attracted 10,000 responses,  found that 87 per cent  of artists felt that affordability of accommodation and living costs will be a barrier to future participation in the Fringe

In the new report, McCarthy, pictured, said: ‘The challenges are unrelenting. If artists can’t afford to be part of it – if the availability and cost of accommodation is untenable, on top of the cost-of-living crisis – then it is impossible to be inclusive, open, welcoming to all.’

The festival has driven limited schemes to find affordable accommodation for performers, but is vaguer about the bigger, systemic problems that are hard to fix.

Its new report strikes a positive note, but one that is short on detail, saying: ‘We believe there is a willingness from all parties to find ways forward that would be a positive outcome for all who have raised concerns about the short-lets accommodation situation in Edinburgh, and the creative community that wants to be part of Edinburgh’s world-renowned festivals every August’

Unveiling the report – which is available here –  McCarthy  added: It’s easy to forget how tumultuous this year has been – between Omicron variants, the cost-of-living crisis and de-stabilising world events, it feels miraculous the Fringe happened at all.

‘The fact that it did is a testament to the concerted effort and support of a cast of thousands, including artists, audiences, venues, media, staff, volunteers, crew, sponsors, elected officials and the city of Edinburgh itself

‘Improvements can always be made, and the insights and data gained from our recent listening exercise are already being taken forward.’

At the end of this year’s festival, the Fringe box office reported that 2.2million tickets had been issued this year, down 26.7 per cent from the 3 million at the last pre-pandemic festival in 2019.

The number of shows was down just over 12 per cent, from 3,800 to 3,334.

Festival chiefs have been trying to shift focus away from the sheer scale of the event, feeling relentless growth will be unsustainable – while simultaneously trying to lower barriers to entry to encourage more performers to attend.