Edinburgh Council's chief executive issues public apology over Christmas market 'mistakes'

The city council's chief executive has issues a public apology over "mistakes" the authority made in the organisation of this year's Christmas market while he responded to calls to reassure the city's development community over a level playing field.

Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 5:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 5:08 pm
The organisation of Edinburgh Christmas market has come under fire from some

The council’s most senior officer has issued a public apology over the Capital’s Christmas market row and moved to reassure developers that processes are consistent – despite an admission that officials “did not consider it appropriate” to instruct event organisers to stop building their structure without planning permission.

Edinburgh City Council’s chief executive, Andrew Kerr, was grilled by the authority’s policy and sustainability committee over whether the council followed the correct processes in extending Underbelly’s contract to put on the event in Princes Street Gardens and if councillors were informed properly about the proposals for this year’s event.

Mr Kerr will draw up a detailed internal investigation by February with a full timeline and input from Underbelly. But an interim report admits that the council breached its own scheme of delegation rules.

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Green Cllr Alex Staniforth, who has met privately with Underbelly bosses, asked whether the council would apologise for the mistakes it is responsible for.

He said: “In their meeting with me, Underbelly did indicate they would show contrition for the mistakes made on their side with regard to the Christmas market this year.

“It’s clear we have also made mistakes. Will we be publicly apologising for the mistakes we have made with regard to the Christmas market this year? I think the least we owe the public on this, is an apology.”

Mr Kerr issued a public apology.

He said: “There is still an investigation going on into the details of this. There’s no doubt that some mistakes were made in the organisation of this event. However, at no point was public safety compromised during any of these events.

“I have said publicly that mistakes were made and I apologise if there was any inconvenience to the public and the process if that’s the case. We need to make sure that what we do is get that right in the future.”

Conservative Cllr John McLellan called for a message to be sent out to developers that the city’s planning processes were fair. The plea comes after Mr Kerr’s interim report revealed that “given the importance of the event in terms of public benefit, officers did not consider it appropriate to instruct Underbelly not to proceed in the absence of planning permission.”Cllr McLellan said: “As far as the rest of the planning world and business community is concerned, the council appears to have been operating at different levels of standards for this application as to others that come before it.

“It seems to me that the inconsistencies in this, however they were caused, there needs to be some reassurance to the wider world that Edinburgh’s processes are fair and balanced and that all applicants are treated the same.”

Mr Kerr moved to reassure developers that “planning procedures are processed consistently right across the board”.

Council leader, Cllr Adam McVey, has urged for lessons to be learned going forward to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated.

He said: “There are clearly issues with how this year emerged and that’s what we are looking at. All the event safety procedures and safety certificates were done as it should have been and public safety was absolutely always upheld.

“The bit that we need to learn from is clearly a better connection of council departments and council contract management. The lead-in time for this year didn’t give us the opportunity to address those things properly. That’s something we have to learn from and build in a bigger lead-in time.”

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