John McLellan: Why does Edinburgh send officials to sunny Cannes?

Everybody who's anybody in property deals makes for Cannes in March. Picture: Getty
Everybody who's anybody in property deals makes for Cannes in March. Picture: Getty
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Amidst the recent blizzards, who wouldn’t love the idea of a few days by the Mediterranean, especially if it involves hob-nobbing with global movers and shakers in the south of France on an expense account? Like something from The Night Manager, maybe?

If you’re in the world of property and land deals, then apparently Cannes is the place to be every March, for an annual four-day jamboree for developers and estate agents, known by its French acronym Mipim. Unkind people might say it’s like the Film Festival for ugly people.

Last year Edinburgh council sent three delegates, including chief executive Andrew Kerr, under the banner of “Team Edinburgh” for a couple of investor dinners and a reception to push the stalling Haymarket development.

They were joined by Jestyn Davies, of Murray Estates, who is in charge of the Garden District proposal at Gogar, and representatives from Edinburgh University and Chris Stewart Architects amongst others. It must have been a worthwhile trip because Kerr and a couple of colleagues will be back for more this year, although it’s not yet clear who they will be seeing or what will be going on.

The issue, discussed at last week’s Housing and economy committee, is that while we’re assured that everybody who’s anybody in the property deals simply must be there and if you’re not there you’re dead, darling, there’s not much clear evidence of the value to Edinburgh taxpayers.

READ MORE: Taxpayers pay for trip to ‘drinking festival’

This is not to say it isn’t true, or that the trip has no value, it’s just that the justification has not been produced and it’s all supposed to go through on the nod under delegated authority. Further, there doesn’t seem to have been any expectation of a report being submitted because there is no mention of Mipim in the economy committee’s papers for February or April last year.

Therefore, councillors did not get the chance to ask what went on at the conference or what benefits it brought the city. Similarly this year, the council’s three amigos were all set to jet off without any kind of by-your-leave from councillors until it was raised last week at the housing and economy committee by vice-convener, Councillor Lezley Cameron.

Cllr Cameron felt that there should be representation from elected members too, but I’m not so sure that’s either necessary or acceptable to the public. But I am sure that if the public is to fund four-day jaunts to the south of France, important conference or not, then the folks back home deserve to know what their investment is delivering.

READ MORE: Cities alliance to showcase £7.5bn of property projects

It may well be that the most important meetings are commercially sensitive and need to be kept under wraps – indeed I’d hope there will be plenty of commercially sensitive discussions – but councillors should have some idea of what’s going on in their name even if it has to be on a confidential, not-for-publication basis.

So, it might be a bit of a pain to have to jot down some notes in between plinking a glass or two of crisp Chablis, but it’s work, not pleasure, and it shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience for the delegation to produce a report which councillors can then scrutinise on their return.

Only then can we really tell whether it’s worthwhile, or indeed whether it needs three officers to attend. But before anyone thinks ill about the Edinburgh involvement in this bash, our colleagues on Glasgow council should be asking the same question about their representatives. All eight of them.

Fact-finding trip to beer-mad Munich
It’s a long time ago now, going back to the days of the district council, but a significant number of officers, councillors (and, I understand, a journalist who shall remain nameless) went off on a “fact-finding” mission to Munich to discover how the Germans laid cobbled streets to help them plan improvements in the Old Town. Judging by the state of the Lawnmarket these days, the trip must have coincided with the Beer Festival.