Sponsorship dumped

Protests force Book Festival to end Baillie Gifford deal

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg cancelled an appearance at last year’s Edinburgh Book Festival

Fund manager Baillie Gifford has “stepped back” from its 20-year sponsorship of the Edinburgh International Book Festival amid ongoing protests from campaigners against fossil fuels and Israel’s war in Gaza.

The mutual decision to part company came after the festival organisers had indicated they would stick by the Edinburgh-based company, but they were forced to accept they could not guarantee the safety of participants and visitors from threats of disruption.

Hay festival in Wales last week decided it could no longer partner Baillie Gifford which manages the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust, a FTSE 100 company that is best known for investing in some of the world’s most exciting new companies such as Tesla and Nvidia.

The actions of the protestors, led by Fossil Free Books, has been described as childish by one theatre director and there are concerns that some arts events will not go ahead.

The Edinburgh event was targeted last year when climate change activist Greta Thunberg cancelled an appearance and more than 50 authors called on the festival to end its deal with Baillie Gifford.

Former festival director Nick Barley warned at the time that it would not have enough money to operate without private sponsorship.

In a statement released on Thursday, Baillie Gifford’s Nick Thomas said: “The activists’ anonymous campaign of coercion and misinformation has put intolerable pressure on authors and the festival community.

“We step back with the hope that the festival will thrive this year and into the future.

“We hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country.”

He disputed figures released by Fossil Free Books and added: “Only 2% of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels. We invest far more in companies helping drive the transition to clean energy.”

Celebrity perfformers including singer Charlotte Church and the comedian Nish Kumar pulled out of the Hay Festival last week in protest at the deal with Baillie Gifford.

Nish Kumar
Nish Kumar pulled out of the Hay Festival

More than 700 publishers and writers including writers George Monbiot, Max Porter and Michael Rosen have signed an open letter calling on festivals to end their links with Baillie Gifford.

Allan Little, chairman of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “Our team cannot be expected to deliver a safe and sustainable festival this August under the constant threat of disruption from activists. This was a pragmatic response to that reality.

“Funding for the arts is now in a perilous position and we should all be clear that without the support of our partners and donors, the future of festivals like ours – and all of the benefits these events bring to authors and readers alike – is in jeopardy.”

The festival’s chief executive, Jenny Niven, said the mutual decision to end the partnership was a source of great regret.

“The pressure on our team has simply become intolerable. We have a major global festival starting in 10 weeks’ time and we need to focus all of our efforts and energy on delivering a safe and successful event for our audiences,” she said.

“Undermining the long-term future of charitable organisations such as book festivals is not the right way to bring about change.

Fossil Free Books said: “We love our literary festivals dearly, and it is a privilege to share work with readers, but this cannot come at the expense of the human rights of Palestinians and communities harmed by fossil fuel companies.”

The group added that it has not coerced authors into supporting its aims and said it would be meeting Jenny Niven from the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday.

David Greig, the artistic director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, recently criticised the protestors.

“To turn down money on pretty spurious grounds, with regard to Baillie Gifford, is irresponsible, entitled and childish,” he said. “I’m worried about it. Audiences and arts organisations do not exist and cannot exist to conform to the given whims of any particular artists or sets of artists at any particular time.”

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