Edinburgh Council's Winter Festivals poll is seriously lacking in credibility - Kevin Buckle

After last week’s column in which I said that Edinburgh Council really needed to engage with local businesses to see what could be done to support them at Christmas rather than take business away from them by allowing so many pop-ups I was amazed to read this week that almost three-quarters of businesses surveyed said they had benefited in terms of turnover and footfall from the two festivals.

By Kevin Buckle
Saturday, 27th November 2021, 7:00 am
Once you drill down into the figures, you realise how few businesses were asked about the likes of the Christmas Market
Once you drill down into the figures, you realise how few businesses were asked about the likes of the Christmas Market

This was part of a far bigger overview of the Winter Festivals that appeared to incorporate consultation by asking people to post their views and a targeted survey in which people and groups are contacted.

The Council press release after the survey was published on Wednesday by market research company Progressive didn’t include this great benefit to local busnesses in their key findings.

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Council Depute Leader Cllr Cammy Day did say: “The festive period is an extremely special time for our capital city and, as well as contributing to the wellbeing of our residents, our Winter Festivals deliver real economic impact, benefitting tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors in particular.” So no mention of retail businesses there.

However there was a link to the full report so there was no option but to wade through the 121-page report to the Policy and Sustainability Committee.

Over halfway through and there was a glimmer of relevance. People from outside Edinburgh felt there was a benefit to local businesses and this was not felt as strongly by those in Edinburgh. However this was from the general public and not the businesses themselves.

Finally at page 91 I was there. “While the base is very small, the majority of business owners/managers in Edinburgh claimed the festivals have increased turnover.” So wait a minute this is an expensive and wide ranging report but the number of businesses included is very small and with no division between hospitality and retail as is now common in any analysis as they head in different directions.

I can’t argue that the 73 per cent who made this statement are indeed almost three-quarters but in terms of accuracy it loses all credibility beyond that. A further 18 per cent recorded no difference and only five per cent felt a negative impact. Almost as unbelievable is that five er cent “didn’t know” and I suspect will not remain in business much longer with that level of understanding. Yes I know that adds up to 101 per cent.

While these claims in the media can maybe be put down to lazy journalism simply repeating what they are told rather than reading the report, surely the councillors themselves and in particular the convener must question why an argument that has rumbled on for years has not been meaningfully addressed. 73 per cent of a very small number of businesses is no basis for any decisions at all.

Not a committee I’m familiar with, a quick search found that that the convener was no other than Adam McVey and the vice-convener was Cammy Day. Finally I reached the end of the report and the profile summary of the survey. 18 businesses had given their views. Exactly half had ten employees or less and might be called small businesses.

The council is either deliberately hiding the negative impact the Winter Festivals have on many local businesses or isn’t competent enough to see it. Neither bodes well for the future.