The purpose of August

Edinburgh city centre


MoneyPlus Features Team

4th August 2014 at 2:35pm

It’s that time of year again. If you live in Edinburgh, as I do, you start to see how the city comes alive for the festival.

It is in fact a number of festivals that take place here every year. Everything from theatre and jazz to books and politics.

The Fringe Festival was actually a late addition to the schedule, back in 1947. Now one of the largest of all the festivals in its own right, we can expect over 1m tickets to be sold for around 50,000 performances of over 3,000 different shows at nearly 300 venues with acts from almost 50 different countries.

The numbers involved are staggering, actually. But it’s not the numbers that make it so appealing.

The choice is good, of course, and people visiting the city will not be short of things to do. And the shows themselves are great; from the newcomers finding their way on the stage, to the old timers showing how it’s done; from the most obscure interest to the mainstream familiar faces.

But for me, there’s an appeal beyond even the shows themselves.

The thing I most like about Edinburgh during August is the atmosphere. For one month, thousands and thousands of people from all over the planet get together and enjoy themselves. They have a collective sense of being on holiday, but with a purpose. A purpose to see things they don’t ordinarily see, hear things they don’t ordinarily hear or experience things they don’t ordinarily experience.

They’re with their friends, their families, their partners, or even on their own. But they’re here with a purpose. A collective purpose. All with different interests, but with a collective purpose.

Just watch people go by and you’ll see a certain excitement, an idle happiness, occasional wonderment or simply a shared affection. Wherever you go, people just smile more.

I think the atmosphere is quite extraordinary and that’s the experience I have; the purpose for me in exploring the city in August.

But my month will be divided, as ever, with a couple of weeks spent at the festival and a couple of weeks working. Work for me is trying to make a small contribution to improving people’s lives in retirement. To get people saving for retirement and to get employers to set up pension schemes and help make that happen.

The Government put in motion a plan back in 2012 to ensure every employer has a workplace pension and to put every eligible employee into that pension. It started with the largest employers in the UK and will finish in 2017 with the very smallest (even those employing one person). At the moment, employers with between 50 and 250 employees are working through their duties.

Contributions will be paid by the employer, the employee and the taxman, starting at a minimum of around 2% of earnings, rising to 8% over time.

Just like the festival, the numbers involved here are equally staggering. We have to get over 1m employers to set up a pension scheme over the next three years and they in turn will have to join almost 10m people into them.Just like the festival, the numbers involved here are equally staggering. We have to get over 1m employers to set up a pension scheme over the next three years and they in turn will have to join almost 10m people into them. So far, so good; almost 4m people already in and less than 10% of those have chosen to opt out.

In summary, 9 in every 10 people so far are staying in.

But it’s not the numbers that will appeal to people when it comes to saving for retirement. Nor is it likely to be the particular features of the pension scheme offered.

I think people will save for their retirement if they believe it is a good thing to do, and that everyone else is doing it. A collective purpose, you might say.

The parallels are fairly obvious: where they collide is when you see people at the festival enjoying their retirement.

Have a great August, whatever your purpose.

PS. If you are spending any time at the festival, my personal recommendation on the comedy circuit is David O’Doherty, an Irish comedian who has always been right on that line between regular festival headliner and TV stardom. Having never ventured into the latter, he excels as a comedian that few people fully know of. I can’t think of a different hour each year when I laugh more.

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