Two More Brit-Lit Festivals Give Up Sponsorship By Baillie Gifford

Cheltenham literature festival and the Borders book festival have become the latest to announce that they will no longer be working with the investment management firm Baillie Gifford.

The company had previously sponsored eight literary festivals and the UK’s most prestigious nonfiction prize. However, after boycotts of the Hay festival because of Baillie Gifford’s links to Israel and fossil fuel companies, the Powys-based event pulled out of the sponsorship deal.

It was swiftly followed by the Edinburgh international book festival, which announced last week the end of its 20-year partnership with the company.

Though Hay and the Borders festival in Melrose chose to end their partnership, and Edinburgh organisers and the asset manager “collectively agreed” to terminate theirs, Cheltenham organisers have indicated the decision to end the sponsorship deal came from Baillie Gifford, although the company has not confirmed this.

“We are saddened to announce that Baillie Gifford have decided to end their partnership with Cheltenham literature festival,” the organisers said via a statement on the festival’s website. “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.”

“We would not have chosen to find ourselves in this position,” the organisers added. “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.”

The directors of the Borders book festival, Alistair Moffat and Paula Ogilvie, and the chair, Michael Moore, said they took the decision to end the sponsorship deal “with great regret”, as they “enjoyed eight happy and productive years” working with the firm. “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,” they said in statement.

The pressure for authors and speakers to drop out of festivals sponsored by Baillie Gifford came via the latest statement issued by the campaign group Fossil Free Books (FFB) last month, which has been signed by more than 700 writers and publishing industry professionals.

The statement reiterated the group’s previous demands that the company cease its investments in the fossil-fuel industry and also demanded that Baillie Gifford divest from companies linked to Israel, as it believes “solidarity with Palestine and climate justice are inextricably linked”.

A spokesperson for FFB said the group’s “primary demand is still for Baillie Gifford to divest and for festivals to use their relationships with Baillie Gifford to call on the firm to divest. Nevertheless, we are grateful to Cheltenham and Borders for standing alongside Hay and Edinburgh in showing leadership and listening to its authors and workers.”

Baillie Gifford has declined to comment on the end of its relationships with Borders and Cheltenham. On breaking ties with Edinburgh, Nick Thomas, a partner at Baillie Gifford, said he and his colleagues “hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country”.

Baillie Gifford also believes FFB’s assertion that the company has “nearly £10bn invested in companies with direct or indirect links to Israel’s defence, tech and cybersecurity industries” to be “seriously misleading”.

In an earlier response to the statement, Baillie Gifford had said: “We are managers of other people’s money, not our own. When it comes to subjective ethical situations relating to particular sectors (such as fossil fuels) or countries (such as Israel), our clients set the parameters and determine what to exclude or divest. We are not in a position to make exclusions of that nature based on our own ethical judgments, or in response to pressure from outside groups.”

The headline and introduction to this article were amended on 5 June 2024. An earlier version had implied that Cheltenham literature festival made the decision to end its relationship with Baillie Gifford, whereas the festival organisers say this was actually the other way around.

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