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Red Hot Highland Fling needs £100,000 subsidy to break even despite charging entry

By Ally Tibbitt

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The Red Hot Highland Fling 2023/24. Picture: James Mackenzie.
The Red Hot Highland Fling 2023/24. Picture: James Mackenzie.

QUESTIONS are mounting about whether public money should still be used to finance Inverness’s flagship city Hogmanay event after it still needed a £100,000 subsidy to break even, despite charging entry for the first time.

Billed as “the largest ceilidh on the planet,” revellers paid £12.50 each to attend the Red Hot Highland Fling run by Highland Council, but ticket sales fell well short of expectations, leaving the Inverness common good fund to foot the bill.

Officials hoped that 5000 people would pay to attend, raising £50,000 towards costs, but figures obtained via Freedom of Information showed that just 3798 people paid for a full price ticket, bringing in under £37,000.

That was well below expectations as councillors were told in November that “4400 tickets needed to be sold to break even.”

Charging was agreed because the “successfully delivered” Highland Games made a loss of £34,069, blowing a hole in the events and festivals budget.

Applause at the Red Hot Highland Fling. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Applause at the Red Hot Highland Fling. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Asked to confirm where public funding came from, the council said: “The difference between income and expenditure costs are currently at £100,000 approx. However, invoices have still to be received from some suppliers and finalised. The funding for the event comes from the Inverness Common Good Fund.”

Infrastructure cost £71,877.60; security/medical £20,779.92; entertainment including the free parade, arena and fireworks £41,850; staffing £4000 and marketing £716.

Set against those costs was £36,854 from ticket sales and £2050 from tendering things like drinks and food sales, making just £38,904 on the night – or a net loss of £100,319.

The event has always needed support to go ahead and opposition leader Councillor Alasdair Christie said: “I’ve had a long-standing opposition to using common good funding to subsidise this event.

“At a time when we’ve got an adult social care crisis it seems bizarre that we’ve effectively subsidised 4000 people around £25 per head to attend five hours of entertainment. If this event is to go ahead in the future it must stand on its own two feet.”

The six-figure Common Good Fund bill has also been criticised by John West, city resident and long-standing common good campaigner.

He said: “That £100,000 is owned by the people of Inverness, so councillors have to justify losses like this. I’m sure the people who went had a great time, but no commercial entity would survive losses like that for long.

“It’s unfortunate that the Common Good Fund is not well understood – it’s become a bit of a slush fund for the council. It is too often used to plug council losses and there has to be some financial discipline.”

The free parade before the the Red Hot Highland Fling 2023/24. Picture: James Mackenzie.
The free parade before the the Red Hot Highland Fling 2023/24. Picture: James Mackenzie.

As well as supporting the costs of putting on events like the Red Hot Highland Fling, the historic Common Good Fund pays for a range of other community initiatives in the city including winter fuel payments for thousands of people on low incomes. Last winter the city paid out £254,000 in winter fuel payments from the Common Good Fund.

The cash is generated from assets held by the fund.

A Highland Council spokesman said that the city of Inverness area committee had agreed the events budget for the year in February 2023, and pointed out that it had already been cut from £303,000 in the previous year to £177,000 for 2023/24.

He said: “In applying the reduced budget, the city events and festival’s working group, with the support of the Inverness City Area Committee, agreed to levy a charge for entry to the Red Hot Highland Fling and the event’s budget was set at £97,000. This was a major reduction from the previous budget for the 2022 Red Hot Highland Fling of £150,000.

“The Red Hot Highland Fling was successfully delivered with ticket sales approaching 4000. This produced significant income for the Inverness Common Good Fund and at the same time reduced the cost of delivering this event to below £100,000. The ticket price was also set to provide for a value for money experience, with ticket prices set at £12 plus 50p booking fee, they were well below the industry average.”

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