Calls for Edinburgh Christmas Market contract to be torn up as critics slam 'brinkmanship' and 'virtual impunity' of Underbelly

Threats from Underbelly to the council labelled "extraordinary"

Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 13th February 2020, 1:02 pm

Threats from Underbelly director Charlie Wood of the cancellation of Edinburgh’s Winter Festival have been branded as “extraordinary” by critics with calls for full transparency from the council.

Mike Small, co-founder of the Capital’s anti-commercialisation campaign The Citizen Network said the emails show Underbelly operates with “virtual impunity”.

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Critics have blasted the revelations around the Christmas Market

He said: “The revelations confirm what Citizen has long-believed - that Underbelly operate with virtual impunity in an unregulated market - yet - miraculously with large amounts of public funding.

“For a private company to repeatedly threaten the elected council its working for is extraordinary.”

Mr Small also called for the council’s contract with Underbelly to be torn up.

He said: “It’s time for this company to be stripped of its contract while we a complete re-think of the purpose of the winter festival, the role of events organisations, the use and abuse of common good land and the need for transparency in public life.

Co-founder of Citizen Network, Mike Small (Photo: Contributed)

“The idea of Mark Ronson being so pivotal to Hogmanay is just embarrassing.”

No repeat of 'brinkmanship'

Conservative city centre ward councillor Jo Mowat said it must be made clear whether councillors were told about the plans for the so-called space deck.

She said: “These emails raise questions about whether Mr Lawrence discussed this with councillors and whether they were appraised of whole situation - threat to cancel and the expansion of market footprint.

Conservative councillor Jo Mowat (Photo: Contributed)

“It makes it imperative that the report that comes back to councillors later this month is a full statement of what occurred and who knew what when, otherwise public calls for an inquiry will be hard to resist. It is important that there is not a repeat of this brinkmanship this year.”

Transparent enquiry needed

Terry Levinthal, the director of one of the city’s oldest conservation and heritage groups the Cockburn Association, called for a transparent inquiry into the scandal.

Mr Levinthal said: “In order to restore confidence in the handling and the management of such events, a quasi public investigation needs to be undertaken as a matter of urgency especially as we are expecting to see a planning application for the market soon.

“If the council knew in May there was a need for this structure but did not force the contractor to submit the consents, that needs a particular focus on.

“It is hard to imagine anyone else in the city getting that treatment in terms of regulatory consents.”

Mr Levinthal also called on the report into the market to be independent, outwith of council officials.

He said: “The review into the market needs to be brought forawrd as a matter of urgency and given the concern that people have with the use of public spaces for large commercial events the review needs to have an element of public transparency.

“It should be removed from the chief executive’s office and put into the hands of an independent.”