BLUNDERING city council chiefs have been slammed for telling marchers they would have to help cover the cost of their events – even though there were no plans to charge them.
Officials admitted a breakdown in communication meant dozens of letters were sent to organisers of some of the Capital’s best-known processions, marches and parades to warn them they would have to stump up thousands of pounds for managing traffic disruption.
But it emerged the letters were sent by mistake as many of the organisations contacted were non-profit making and would not be subject to the new charging regime.
The blunder occurred as part of efforts to inform event organisers across the Capital that, from April 1, they would have to pay for the cost of providing traffic control measures such as road closures, barriers and special parking restrictions.
The measure is being introduced to help council bosses cover annual losses of £800,000 incurred through controlling and diverting traffic during major commercial events such as sports fixtures, rock gigs and conferences.
Transport leader Lesley Hinds admitted staff in the council’s roads department had not fully understood advice given by budget officials on the change and where it would apply.
But furious bosses at the Loyal Orange Institution of Scotland said they had already wasted thousands of pounds on “Rolls-Royce quality” legal counsel after receiving the letter.
They said money had also been spent on high-level meetings with council officials and that they would now seek to recover the cost of any legal fees.
James MacLean, national treasurer for the Orange Order of Scotland, said: “We’ve spent thousands of pounds taking legal advice because the council told me that we were going to be charged for temporary traffic restriction orders.
“Speaking to the officials and getting them to commit to a precise amount for how much this was going to cost us was like pulling teeth.
“Eventually, they said at least £5000, but that it could be as much as £20,000, and possibly even £25,000 with VAT.
“We thought our basic, democratic right to freedom of peaceful public assembly was being violated. We went to the top legal brain in Scotland on the issue. We even sought advice from the United Nations.”
He said he and his Edinburgh-based members were left “astounded” after news of the blunder emerged.
“I’m mystified that a mistake of that magnitude could be made,” he said.
“It’s fair to say that, while I’m heartily relieved we’re not having to pay thousands to hold our march, our members won’t be pleased about this.”
Organisations that could see their bills rise significantly under the new regime include the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), which organises major sports fixtures and rock concerts at Murrayfield, as well as Hearts and Hibs.
SRU spokesman Dominic McKay attacked the changes.
He said: “To enable us to be competitive, we have to have a supportive collection of stakeholders who understand how difficult it is to attract major events to Edinburgh in what is a global marketplace.
“Anything that undermines our ability to attract those events would have a detrimental effect, not only on Scottish rugby and our investment in developing the game in this country, but also on the wider economy of Edinburgh and Scotland.”
Councillor Hinds said: “I will be speaking to officers as a matter of urgency to make sure that they adhere to the decision of the council in the budget process.
“Edinburgh is famous internationally for its events and festivals, and it is important that we support them as much as we can.
“However, I think it is also important that event organisers help us to recover the substantial costs incurred, as they do in other parts of Scotland.”