Edinburgh's Christmas Market cash income and profit to remain secret as council and Underbelly refuse to release details

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Edinburgh City Council said they were unable to release details of where the income is spent.

Profits from the Christmas Market are to remain secret despite months of controversy after both Edinburgh City Council and Underbelly refused to answer questions about the finances of the event.

It follows a week of revelations in the Evening News including cancellation threats from the market’s contractors Underbelly, fears over the safety of the scaffold structure being kept secret by the council, and the city’s planning chief seeking to push the blame for the scandal onto Underbelly.

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However, despite multiple requests for information on the financial side of the market, neither the council nor Underbelly have released any details of the actual monetary benefit or profit of the event.

Profits from the Christmas Market will stay secret.Profits from the Christmas Market will stay secret.
Profits from the Christmas Market will stay secret.

The depute leader of the council, Cammy Day, said the Winter Festivals bring “significant” financial benefits to the city.

Underbelly said they would release the financial results for Edinburgh’s Winter Festivals in mid-march.

Release of financial information would 'cause substantial harm' to Underbelly

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Responding to a request from this newspaper for the details of the income from the market, the council’s Freedom of Information team described the release of information would “cause substantial harm to the commercial interests of the event providers” and is not in the public interest.

In October, culture and communities convener Donald Wilson told the Evening News that five projects; improvement works at the Scott Monument and the City Art Centre, delivering the Festivals and Events programme, supporting the Burns & Beyond festival, and the day-to-day operation of the Capital’s museums and galleries, received money from the Winter Festivals.

However, when asked officially for the breakdown in the spending, the council said it was not “directed to specific projects”.

On January 8 this year, the Evening News asked Underbelly for a detailed breakdown of turnover, profit, expenditure and income from the events which is then directed to the council.

Underbelly refused to release the information.

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Labour councillor Scott Arthur said: “The Evening News must be congratulated for maintaining coverage of the Christmas Market debacle.

“Even in my suburban ward, there is a real desire for full disclosure and a demand that the problems that have been inflicted upon us do not reoccur.

“Rather than having to rely on FOI requests to learn more, however, I hope Underbelly will now come clean and detail how it has benefited at the expense of Edinburgh’s international reputation.”

Financial information to be released in March

An Underbelly spokesman said: “Underbelly plans to release the financial results for the recent Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay events in mid-March at the same time as the reports on these events to the Council.

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“The figures will show the substantial investment that Underbelly makes in both events. We have also offered the Council the opportunity to audit the accounts for these events.”

Cllr Cammy Day, depute leader at the council said the festival bring “significant financial benefits” to the council.

He said: “Our long-established Winter Festivals are hugely popular and successful events, bringing significant financial and cultural benefits for the Council, the city and Scotland as a whole, supporting jobs in the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors, among others.

"As with every contract the Council has, we are obliged to make sure the tender process is a fair as possible to maintain the integrity of the process and, equally, to make sure the best value is gained for the people of Edinburgh.

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“Disclosure of commercially sensitive information would cause substantial harm to both the Council seeking to obtain the best value for citizens as well as the provider.

“Of course we understand the interest in making sure there is value for money. We no longer fund Edinburgh’s Christmas, with the award of the contract (when combined with Hogmanay) saving the tax payer £2m over the past three years when compared to the previous contract.

“I look forward to our discussion with our communities on how the future of Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations can continue to promote Edinburgh on the international map and be a world class destination.”

How the council tried to stop us

Edinburgh City Council officials attempted to stop the release of emails connected to the Christmas Market due to fears over the ability of officials to do their job.

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Following an information request under Environmental Information Regulation laws, the Evening News were told around 600 emails would not be released because it was not in the public interest.

The council added disclosure would harm the ability of officers to do their job and could prejudice ongoing council proceedings, in this case a live planning application.

Despite being told none of the emails requested would be released in early December, the Evening News appealed the decision, citing the public interest in the market and highlighting flaws in the council’s argument for withholding the emails.

After nearly two months, taking significantly longer than the 20 day statutory period.

More than 60 pages of emails were released to the paper, including several attachments, revealing the internal views of those involved in Edinburgh’s Christmas Market scandal.