Kevin Buckle: Jingle Tills? It's more like Silent Night

My first column encouraged people to look beyond the bright lights of Princes Street and support shops that will be found in the wider Edinburgh city centre all year round and not just at Christmas. The headline in this very paper on Saturday was 'Jingle Tills' as visitor numbers for the 'city centre' were showing an 11 per cent increase. However when the phrase 'city centre' is used often what is meant is the Essential Edinburgh BID district which is no surprise as between themselves and Edinburgh's Christmas they are providing the figures.

Thursday, 22nd December 2016, 8:39 am
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 2:02 pm
The Christmas Market is packed to the rafters  but shoppers are not venturing further afield. Picture: Jon Savage

At the same time I’ve heard yet again from traders outside this elite enclave that from the Grassmarket to the Canongate this has been the worst Christmas trading they have ever seen. Huge numbers of visitors in Princes Street but few making it beyond the Royal Mile and this year it seems that amazingly many aren’t even making it that far. So where can they all be?

The answer was clear when it was reported that crushing at the weekends had become such a problem that a queueing system would need to be introduced. So one area has too many people and other areas close by not enough. What could possibly be the solution ?

I read that Joanna Mowat the Conservative councillor for the area was calling for footfall to be spread more evenly across the city centre but this was a reaction to the reported overcrowding rather than an attempt to support the wider business community. In fact, as one of the councillors that supported the residents of the Grassmarket objecting to any meaningful attractions last year I can only assume she doesn’t want the footfall spreading too far!

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Technology and social media have created a whole new working environment

What is so disheartening is every year we are told there will be changes and then nothing happens. I can do no better than quote Underbelly’s Charlie Wood again in this paper in October 2014.

“Footfall in the Grassmarket is less in December than in February. We need to bring some of those 2.6 million people who passed through our two sites at St Andrew Square and East Princes Street Gardens to the Old Town. We need to do more to support businesses in the Old Town.”

So what happened ? Well according to the project manager of the Grassmarket BID at the time they were made an offer for not the most exciting of attractions to be provided and at a cost more than the Grassmarket’s entire budget for the year. When this was pointed out she was told to find sponsorship.

The following year, aware it would be impossible to use Underbelly, a deal was struck with another operator for a Victorian Christmas with old fashioned rides and a market but after representations from residents supported by local councillors permission was refused by Edinburgh Council. The Royal Mile did get the “Street of Light” spectacle last year, though that has now been moved to George Street.

Technology and social media have created a whole new working environment

So moving forward what can be done? Well obviously other parts of Edinburgh need to be promoted to all those visiting Edinburgh’s Christmas – the clue being in the name! Edinburgh Council recognises nine other town centres from Portobello to Nicolson Street and seven “Speciality Shopping Streets”. Each of these should be given a free stall at the Christmas market to promote their own area creating their own little village where information on all Edinburgh has to offer can be found. As they leave the visitors could then be given a leaflet promoting all these other areas.

Then of course genuine attempts need to be made to provide more areas with appropriate Christmas attractions. Finally, given the perilous finances of the council and the fact it is clear somebody is making a lot of money from Edinburgh’s Christmas, it needs to be transparent that the council is making its fair share for the city as a whole. It is unthinkable that the situation can be allowed to continue.

The joy of tech is passing some workplaces by

More and more as I’ve become involved with councils, advisory bodies and the like I’m constantly left wondering why things don’t actually get done. Meetings about having meetings is an obvious way to delay things but it is far more complex than that.

Things have moved on so quickly in the last five years, never mind decade, that most organisations and departments I’ve had to deal with simply haven’t adapted. For some their jobs have almost disappeared so they spend their time pretending there really is a job there to be done. For others, meanwhile, their jobs have become more complicated and if to be done properly work has to be done outside what used to be called normal working hours.

Technology and social media have created a whole new workplace that even some professions have not embraced. I have even seen desperate attempts by firms to make social media fit into a 9 to 5 format complete with meetings to discuss on the Friday and the Monday.

People have seriously told me that something that would take me two phone calls to sort out will take them two weeks. Then after those two weeks no conclusion has been reached just a bunch of meetings arranged.

There are an awful lot of good people but all it takes is somebody in the chain to delay and often things never happen at all and the opportunity is lost. Even if you point out a quicker route to these people you will normally be met with the answer “that’s not how we do things here”.

Of course it is no surprise that people don’t admit when their jobs are slowly disappearing. As one customer involved in such a situation explained “that would be like turkeys voting for Christmas”!

Rich pickings while the arts struggle

With the arts so desperate for every last penny it is a great pity that backers of the music school and the “arts” hotel vying for the old Royal High School have spent so much money on lawyers, architects and consultants.

The hotel has claimed it will support the wider arts community and it has to be hoped that the situation can be resolved sooner rather than later. Then at least if the hotel is true to its word the arts will start to benefit rather than both parties funding second homes for expensive professionals.