Edinburgh doesn’t need Christmas tat to add to the tartan tat – Kevin Buckle

Big questions need to be asked about how we run the winter festivities in Edinburgh writes Kevin Buckle

Saturday, 5th October 2019, 6:00 am
Edinburgh's Christmas market draws spending away from local businesses, says Kevin Buckle. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

I had my first Christmas bag in the shop this week so it was no surprise that Underbelly felt it was the right time to explain why Christmas and Princes Street Gardens need to be commercialised even more if the Hogmany celebrations are to continue and Underbelly are not to withdraw from running the events.

The argument is on the face of it a simple one. For both events to co-exist it is necessary for the Christmas festivities to subsidise the New Year celebrations and even so money is still needed from Edinburgh Council as well.

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The council’s contribution is no small pickings either, being only four grand short of £1 million. £180,000 is also provided by Creative Scotland for the Message from the Skies project in which young people from across the Central Belt enter a writing competition to see their story up in lights.

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The sore point among the plethora of figures in the Underbelly statement is that while explaining that the Hogmanay events lose money and are supported by the Christmas festivities they refuse to say how much profit they make from Christmas before using what is left to help with New Year losses, citing commercial confidentiality.

Under normal circumstances this would be reasonable but with so much public money involved and with the claims being made not disclosing what goes towards profit for Underbelly is simply unacceptable.

While checking on the price for Street Party tickets – which have been around £30 for several years now, with locals paying £20 – it was regularly pointed out what a good price they were. Quite simply in these times when people happily pay huge amounts for concert tickets or to attend football matches Hogmanay tickets need to be priced so that costs are covered.

When you also consider how much visiting attendees will have spent on hotels and food, a bit like the transient visitor levy even though it will be considerably more, the increase in ticket prices will be a minor detail in visitors’ overall costs.

Of course all the claims of helping businesses by bringing people to Edinburgh are never examined closely by the council and quite simply every year it becomes clearer and clearer that the Christmas attractions with all the extra traders are bad for most businesses, unless you are running a hotel.

We have reached the point now were even those who sell food all year are saying that the stalls Underbelly bring in to compete with them are dramatically reducing expected turnover. It should be added this is not simply a problem in Edinburgh but one that has been raised in most places with Christmas markets.

There is so much that could be done to help local businesses at Christmas to benefit from the influx of visitors, especially when local residents move more and more to buying online, but the council does nothing but support those behind hundreds of pop-ups that hoover up the spending of those visiting the attractions.

Truth be told, Edinburgh’s Christmas attractions are anything but unique and the real attraction is the city itself, which has enough tartan tat without the need for Christmas tat too.

A major rethink is needed on how Edinburgh presents itself at Christmas and how Hogmanay can become self-sufficient.