Snubbed traders hit out at ‘Underbelly Christmas’

A bar at the festive market. Picture: Ian Georgeson

A bar at the festive market. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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TRADERS excluded from this year’s Christmas market have launched a scathing attack on organiser Underbelly, accusing it of cashing in at the expense of local businesses.

A group of former stallholders who were refused space claim the firm ruled out any bid to sell alcohol at the market because it had decided to run all the bars itself.

Nell Nelson. Picture: Julie Bull

Nell Nelson. Picture: Julie Bull

And they said instead of Edinburgh’s Christmas, the event should be renamed “Underbelly’s Christmas”.

The fresh criticism comes amid complaints over rising costs, censorship on the festival’s Facebook page, an accident on the Star Flyer and a walkout by a disgruntled Santa.

Nell Nelson, of the Original Edinburgh Mead Company, said her firm had been at the market for the previous five years, selling its Scottish-themed alcoholic and non-
alcoholic drinks, including its own mulled wine.

She said: “It’s been successful for us and we felt the market with other Scottish traders and the Germans was a really nice mix.

“We applied to Underbelly to do a similar thing, but we got an e-mail saying ‘we’re doing all the bars’ and refusing us outright. All we wanted to do was have one bar and sell our popular Scottish drinks. It would have meant the consumer got a bit of variety.”

The e-mail said: “We are not looking for any on-trade alcohol sales as Underbelly will be running their own bars. So any proposal for a pitch will have to be without alcohol sales unless it is off sales.”

Today, however, Underbelly denied that it was running all the bars.

But Ms Nelson’s business partner, Moray McAndrew, said the council now needed to reconsider Underbelly’s contract.

He said: “If you’re going to have someone organising the event, they should not have a vested interest in getting their own business in there. It’s a clear conflict of interest, especially when it is being subsidised with public money.”

Geoff Terry, of Mutley’s Crepes, who also had a stall at the market for five years, said he had made repeated attempts to contact Underbelly after learning the previous organiser, Durham-based She’s Gott It, had lost the contract.

He said: “I sent nine e-mails and never got a response. The first I heard back from them was saying I had been unsuccessful when I hadn’t really had the chance to apply.

“Underbelly took all the prime sites. It’s a very negative experience if all the bars look the same.

“The council should reconsider whether they have got the right company running this.”

An Underbelly spokesman said: “There are six different bar suppliers across the sites. In an earlier e-mail, our Christmas producer wrote to Mr McAndrew that Underbelly was running the bar stalls. She was incorrect to do so.

“Since Edinburgh’s Christmas opened on November 22, more than 1.3 million people have visited our sites to enjoy the atmosphere, quality food stuffs and attractions.”