Baillie Gifford exits festivals amid activist ‘coercion’

UPDATE 6 — The Borders Book Festival announced that after 2024 it will no longer be sponsored by Edinburgh investment giant Baillie Gifford, following intense pressure from climate change protesters.

A number of book festivals have now lost their funding from Baillie Gifford amid the growing pressure from activists.

Baillie Gifford has responded by pointing out it is not a significant fossil fuel investor, with only 2% of its clients’ money invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels.

Baillie Gifford partner Nick Thomas said the activists’ “anonymous campaign of coercion and misinformation has put intolerable pressure on authors and the festival community.”

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

The Cheltenham Literature Festival has lost its funding from Baillie Gifford and The Wigtown Book Festival has also ended its partnerhsip with the investment firm.

Edinburgh International Book Festival recently ended its 20-year funding deal with Baillie Gifford, a move that followed a similar decision by the Hay Festival in Wales.

Borders Book Festival directors Michael Moore, Alistair Moffat and Paula Ogilvie said in a statement: “We took this decision with great regret because we have enjoyed eight happy and productive years working together to make our festival better, more accessible and in particular more attractive to children and families.

“Without the support of Baillie Gifford we would not have been able to mount such a vibrant and varied children’s festival (where adults go free) and do all that we do with schools in the Borders.

“Baillie Gifford’s support has enabled us to put free books into the hands of thousands of children, and that aspect of their support will be sorely missed.

“We wish to put on record our thanks to the company for their solid and passionate support not only for our festival, its authors and audiences, but for all the book festivals across Britain who have benefitted from Baillie Gifford’s commitment to the world of books and readers.”

The Wigtown Book Festival said: “It is with regret that we announce that the partnership between Wigtown Book Festival and Baillie Gifford is to end.

“We wish to offer huge thanks for their stalwart support over 14 years, which has allowed us to sustain and grow the festival and has provided economic, cultural and social benefits across our community.”

The Cheltenham Literature Festival said: “We are saddened to announce that Baillie Gifford have decided to end their partnership with Cheltenham Literature Festival …

“Culture and literature are by their nature engaged in the world beyond them. It is not possible — we should not aim — to isolate one from the other. Recent intense discussion of the ways in which literature festivals and their methods of funding interact with and impact upon that outside world has been a salutary reminder of our interconnectedness.

“Many have in the past weeks noted that contemporary literature festivals rely on a mix of funding which includes a significant sum generated through corporate sponsorship. These funds ensure that wide access to a diverse culture remains something we can offer to all. Without it, there would be no free events, ticket prices would increase, schools programmes would reduce in scope; some festivals would close.

“These are high stakes. But the stakes in the world outside are even higher, and there are few easy answers. At Cheltenham Festivals, we have taken decisive action in recent years to help end the climate emergency, changing the fields we use, developing and sharing sustainability strategies and toolkits, and using our platform to advocate for change.

“We are all on a journey. Change can take time, and proceed through stages. This can be frustrating; we share a sense of urgency.

“It is in this context that we seek corporate sponsorship. It may be that the balance of public and private funding might be different, but the former is presently of limited availability. Literature festivals are engines of change, cauldrons of ideas, and we are passionately committed to offering ourselves as a centre of a forward-thinking culture.

“To do so, we must fund our work, and ensure it is as inclusive and accessible as possible. In so doing, we aim to exert positive influence on all, and make a constructive impact on the world beyond our Festival.

“It is therefore with sadness that we announce the withdrawal of a major sponsor, Baillie Gifford. We have been grateful for the funding they have provided and have turned it to positive ends: to increasing access to, and representation within, the very public debates that can affect lasting change. We would not have chosen to find ourselves in this position.

“We believe that change is only possible if we as a culture make it together. Engagement with festivals like ours – by readers, writers, policymakers and indeed by sponsors – is a crucial means of making progress. We ask that all of us – writers, audiences, investors, book-workers – consider these questions in the round, and work together to achieve our shared goals.

“We support an end to fossil fuel usage, and an end to human rights abuses of all kinds. Every year for eighty years, we have platformed the most prominent writers and thinkers in the world, and championed progress. We will continue to do so, although like all literature festivals we operate within a straitened financial context.

“We passionately believe that books and ideas are crucial for all – and we are working towards a future in which funding for them is both sustainable and plentiful. We invite everyone to join that wider conversation about how we achieve the future health of the world of books … and, most importantly and pressingly, also of the world beyond.”