There is a slim possibility that some readers of this column may not have avidly sat through Jeremy Hunt’s hour-long Budget speech on Wednesday.

If so, they had a far better time than this dedicated critic. Almost everything that the Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed had already been leaked to the media in advance, making the event little more than an opportunity to witness a politician doing its best to become a stand-up comedian and failing.

However, amidst the billions of pounds being plunged into defence, offered to the very rich as an enhancement to their pension plans and taken away from the hoi polloi since the income tax personal allowance has been frozen yet again, there was what sounded like genuine good news for at least one small part of the culture sector.

Inexplicably, Hunt paused the serious financial reckoning to explain that he had allocated £8.6 million to the Edinburgh Festivals. While this is a very small drop in an ocean that deals in tens or even hundreds of billions, it could be the difference between life and death for the beleaguered folk trying to recover from some very bad years. Knowing politicians as we do, there is a possibility that this is not “new money” but actually a new attempt to claim credit for money that already been allocated. Time will tell.

The information is currently very limited and it would be good to know the allocation between the different festivals, since the media might present Edinburgh as a single event but in addition to the Edinburgh International Festival and Festival Fringe, there are separate celebrations of books, film, jazz and art.

Readers may recall that, following the disastrous decision to go ahead with the Fringe in 2021, those in charge were left taking round the begging bowl in order to survive. While 2022 was better, ticket sales were still 25% down on pre-pandemic days. Even so, the future of the Fringe could be in doubt if there is another weak year with costs out of control and revenues still severely limited.

Recently, the Fringe Society has appointed Phoebe Waller-Bridge as president and she has nobly raised a significant sum to support budding performers. Each of the other festivals will also have faced difficulties but there is less evidence that these could be existential.

Depending on your perspective, £8.6 million is either inconsequential or massive. In reality, when spread relatively thinly around the different festivals, it may not make a massive difference but will certainly help.

The BBC web site has suggested that the majority of the money could be applied towards acquiring a permanent home for the Fringe administration. While that would be welcome and represent an annual saving, it would also presumably take up the vast majority of the additional funding. Given that those involved have been living from hand to mouth, fearful of the Fringe’s ability to survive, commencing a big capital project may not be the best way forward.

As we have learned to our cost regarding HS2 and so many other pie in the sky ventures, these things always seem to take much longer than planned with costs spiralling out of control. The last thing that anyone involved with any of the Edinburgh festivals needs is to discover that the government funding was wholly inadequate for a project that eventually comes in at twice the original quote, leaving the Fringe Society with a bill for millions that it cannot pay.

There is no doubt that people involved with the Oldham Coliseum, the English National Opera and other theatres that lost their allocations will smile wryly to discover where their money has gone.

The bad news is confirmation that, despite the efforts of many high-profile proponents, Arts Council England has achieved its goal of closing the 138-year-old Oldham Coliseum, which will be locking its doors forever at the end of March. This has led to a coruscating attack from actors’ union Equity.

After locally-based Equity Councillor Victoria Brazier bemoaned the loss of 400 paid actor weeks i.e. 20% of all currently available in the north-west, General Secretary Paul Fleming didn’t pull his punches, stating,

“Oldham Coliseum’s closure is a damning indictment of both the Arts Council’s initial decision to cut its funding, and the half-baked plan to throw cash at the council in light of local uproar.

“We should be clear that we are here because of the Arts Council’s strategy, which is made by people who have no understanding of how important this theatre is to its town, Greater Manchester and the North West region’s cultural ecology.

“This is a loss of 20% of theatre acting work in Greater Manchester, and 70 permanent jobs at the theatre. Local employment in the hospitality sector and night-time economy depend on theatres with the history and community connection of the Oldham Coliseum. This is not a region, a town, or a time, to needlessly lose more jobs from a sustainable industry.

“There has been a lot of dissembling in recent weeks about who is responsible. Last week the Arts Council were clear they were expecting the local authority to come forward with a plan for interim producing theatre provision using funds earmarked for Oldham. Now the human and physical infrastructure which underpins this plan is gone, and the transition funding spent on redundancies to reduce culture, not wages to provide it. This is not what ordinary audiences and taxpayers in Oldham expect or deserve. The Arts Council needs to step in with a plan to safeguard jobs and producing theatre provision in Oldham immediately, not push responsibility onto a local authority creaking from austerity.

“The union remains willing and open to meet to help put together a plan, and we call on the Arts Council and the local authorities in Oldham and Greater Manchester to work with us to do that in a meaningful way.”

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on theatres up and down the country. While limited support for the Edinburgh Festivals is welcome, the government and Arts Council England need to do far more or the sector will lose many greater numbers of theatres and jobs.