Edinburgh Christmas Market 2022: Calls for council to run festival rather than private companies

An Edinburgh councillor has called on the local authority to take over running the city’s Christmas Market and festivals and stop handing out contracts to private companies “who never deliver”.
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Labour’s Katrina Faccenda backed the move to avert more “winter festival shenanigans and disappointments” following the collapse of a multi-million pound deal between the council and an events company put this year’s festivities in jeopardy.

Councillors gathered for an emergency finance and resources committee on Monday (October 10) after Angel Event Experiences (AEE) walked away from a contract they signed in June to deliver events, market stalls and amusements in the capital.

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Officials said it became apparent the company would not be able deliver all the amusements promised, including a proposed zip wire attraction on George Street. And they were quizzed about the fiasco as councillors voiced their frustration at not being told about the situation sooner, with many saying it had exposed weaknesses in the procurement process.

Edinburgh Christmas Market stock photo, by Scott Louden.Edinburgh Christmas Market stock photo, by Scott Louden.
Edinburgh Christmas Market stock photo, by Scott Louden.

The meeting concluded with a private session where members agreed to bring in a new company, Unique Assembly, to run the ‘core’ elements of Edinburgh’s Christmas, such as the Princes Street market and George Street ice rink to ensure the festival still goes ahead in some form.

At the council’s scrutiny committee on Tuesday, councillors from across the chamber said questions remain over what happened – and they called for a report detailing any costs incurred by the council, loss of events by community and risks to jobs and local economy. The committee specified the report should inform members of what was included in AEE’s bid to host the event, any missed opportunities to scrutinise their proposals or inform councillors of the risks involved, and whether any concerns about the deliverability of the contract were held by council bosses.

Councillor Faccenda said the situation was “really disappointing” as it was previously felt the decision to award the contract to a new company could “drawn a line under the years of winter festival shenanigans and disappointments and the annual destruction of East Princes Street Gardens”.

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“I agree also that we really need to look at the procurement issues,” she said, “I have never heard a compelling argument why we need to give away the running of these things to private companies who never deliver them the way that we should and we allow large spaces in our city centre to be commodified.

Labour councillor Katrina Faccenda. Photo by Scott Louden.Labour councillor Katrina Faccenda. Photo by Scott Louden.
Labour councillor Katrina Faccenda. Photo by Scott Louden.

“We do need to scrutinise what went wrong this time and then hopefully go a wee bit further and take control of the winter festivals for the City of Edinburgh.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Lewis Younie said : “It’s embarrassing, deeply embarrassing, that we are in a position where a cultural and social staple of Edinburgh wasn’t certain to occur.” He added the reputational damage to the council would have been “enormous” if Christmas events had been called off.

“Mistakes can happen and things can go wrong and those we contract may be not be able to meet their obligations,” he said, “In short disasters can be unforeseen. However, what is intolerable about this situation is that most councillors were only informed of the incoming disaster at practically the last moment. We owe it to residents to do a better job on this.”

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Tory councillor Jo Mowat said it was down to “a failure of procurement” and argued the way the council awards and manages contracts should be looked at “in a systemic way”. Ms Mowat added councillors “rescued it at the last minute” but said many of them “feel like they’re standing on the edge of a table holding a very precious glass vase in their hand and it could all come crashing down”. She said: “We can’t continue in that way to deliver these services.”

The Green Group’s Jule Bandel said she was relived a solution was found to “save Christmas” She added: “We agree that this has revealed significant issues.”

Following the meeting, SNP Group Leader Adam McVey said: “It’s heartening that we now have a way forward for Christmas this year, after the Finance committee backed SNP plans to try and make the process as robust as possible.

“However there are a number of questions outstanding. These focus on the opportunities Labour had to deal with issues or alert other councillors to problems and yet failed to act. What’s certain is that the failures that led us to this position have cost the council significantly and we will continue to push to make sure lessons which should have learned already are learned.”