Glasgow events bosses say Scottish Government’s proposed ban on alcohol advertising is damaging the industry

Scotland’s biggest events bosses warn the Scottish Government’s proposed ban on alcohol advertising is already damaging the industry.
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Organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, Glasgow‘s Hydro arena and Celtic Connections festival, the TRNSMT and Connect festivals, The Open golf championship and the Royal Highland Show, have condemned proposals aimed at reducing the exposure of young people and problem drinkers to drinks brands.

The Scottish Government is under pressure from its own tourism agency over the proposals, with VisitScotland warning the backing of drinks brands for events and attractions is “instrumental” to the entire industry’s success.

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All three SNP leadership candidates signalled a rethink on the proposals, but the industry says damage has already been done since proposals were put out for consultation in November, with investors “hesitant to commit funding in an environment of uncertainty.”

If the proposals went ahead, it said festivals may have to be called off, scaled back or relocated elsewhere, while Scotland could also lose out with bids to host one-off events if partnerships with drinks companies are outlawed.

Concerns have been raised about a lack of research in Scotland into the negative impact of drinks brands backing events.

Young people face higher health risks from alcohol consumption than older adults (Photo: Getty Images)Young people face higher health risks from alcohol consumption than older adults (Photo: Getty Images)
Young people face higher health risks from alcohol consumption than older adults (Photo: Getty Images)

The new concerns emerged days after the organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations backed an open letter warning that restrictions on alcohol advertising would inflict “substantial damage on the cultural life of Scotland.”

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In a letter to public health minister Maree Todd, Scotland’s Event Industry Advisory Group, which was set up during the pandemic, said the removal of “a core commercial revenue stream represents a huge additional challenge that will directly impact viability and capacity.”

Chair Peter Duthie, chief executive of the Scottish Event campus, said: “The millions of pounds of income received through partnership with the alcohol industry provides an established, significant and necessary commercial revenue stream for the event sector.

“With public sector funding being reduced, the additional removal of a core commercial revenue stream, and no credible alternative, threatens the sector’s financial viability and the associated many benefits it delivers for Scotland.

“The recovery of Scotland’s event sector following the pandemic is ongoing and extremely fragile.

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“It is already challenged by disrupted supply chains, reduced funding, increased production costs, a depleted workforce, financially cautious consumers, and the action required for a successful transition to net zero.

“Removal of a core commercial revenue stream represents a huge additional challenge that will directly impact viability and capacity.”

Mr Duthie said Scotland had a reputation as a “world-class event host”.

He added: “Removal of a significant commercial revenue stream will affect Scotland’s attractiveness as a potential host venue and may result in some events deciding to go elsewhere (including within the UK) to access the necessary commercial income.

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“Concern within the alcohol industry around this consultation and its potential policy outcome is already impacting on Scotland’s event sector, with potential investors hesitant to commit funding in an environment of uncertainty.

“Independently-commissioned research is required to properly evidence and fully understand the value of alcohol advertising and sponsorship to the event sector in Scotland, and the likely impact of its withdrawal.

“Similarly, there is concern regarding the strength of evidence in support of an advertising ban as an effective means to reduce alcohol misuse.”

In a submission to the government’s consultation, which closed last week, VisitScotland pointed out that the country had become established as “a world-leading events destination” over the last 20 years, when it has supported more than 1000 different events.

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VisitScotland told the government: “A significant part of the tourism and events sector in Scotland relies on the alcohol industry, both directly and indirectly, in their operations.

“The delivery of events will often require partnership or sponsorship including from alcohol brands. In some cases, the ability to attract sponsorship and support from this sector is what makes event delivery viable.

“Edinburgh’s festivals brought £313m economic impact, including 5,660 jobs and £14m of investment in Scottish creatives and production companies in 2019. Many of the festivals have alcohol brands as sponsors or partners.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Reducing the exposure of children to alcohol promotion is a priority as there is clear evidence which shows adverts glamorising drinking can encourage young people to drink alcohol and can also have a detrimental impact on those in recovery from problem alcohol use.”

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Alison Douglas, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “We have a huge problem with alcohol in Scotland.

“It causes one in 15 of all deaths, which have increased by 22 per cent in the last two years.

“Marketing is serving to drive this problem as it helps to recruit new drinkers, reinforces heavy drinking and normalises alcohol as an everyday product.

“It’s impact on children and young people is especially concerning as exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood they will start drinking, to drink more, and go on to develop an alcohol problem.

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“There is evidence that sponsorship is a particularly powerful form of marketing for young people, perhaps not surprising as it enables brands to link to highly emotional and formative experiences like seeing your favourite band playing at a festival.

“Evidence from other countries shows that the most effective way of protecting children and young people, and adults too, from alcohol marketing is by having as comprehensive restrictions as possible.”

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