Edinburgh's Christmas market: Council to consider public ownership in joint venture

Fresh look at how festive celebrations are organised in Capital

The annual “Edinburgh’s Christmas” festival could be brought into public ownership following the collapse of the contract for this year’s event when the private operator due to produce it pulled out.

The city council had to step in and rescue the festival, which includes the Christmas market, fairground rides and other attractions, by bringing in new organisers after Angels Event Experience (AEE) walked away from the £5.5 million contract. It has been claimed the council is set to lose up to £3 million as a result.

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Now a meeting of the full council has agreed to explore a ‘joint venture’ model for future events, giving them greater control.

SNP group leader Adam McVey said the move – which the Labour administration also backed – would see the winter festival brought under partial or full public ownership. He said: “It’s essentially a partnership model, so the council would go out to tender not on a contract but seeking a partner and then what they would do is create a company which was 50 per cent public owned, 50 per cent owned by creative industries. That would enhance the public control of what’s happening within the company, it would also enhance the return if there were profits to be made.

“An organisation can collapse at any time or contract can collapse at any time and the organisation can try and hold themselves within the delivery of that as has happened in this case. This has all come about through contract management on behalf of the administration.”

Cllr McVey accused the Labour administration of a “serious breach of responsibility which is not cost free”. He said: “In June the SNP put forward an amendment saying we wanted to be kept updated on progress, that was ignored by the administration.” And he quizzed council leader Cammy Day about when he was first made aware of problems surrounding the contract with AEE.

Cllr Day said he found out on September 22, but the SNP leader said his answer “contradicts” previous accounts given. He said: “Already we’re seeing Labour really caught in this, they are not being entirely open,” Cllr McVey added. “The punchline to all this is we need to re-look at how we deliver it. We knew there was a problem with contract management, it’s why we insisted in June that councillors were kept updated on progress.”

The Christmas market and other events will go ahead this year after the council brought in new contractors.

Cllr Day has said there would be a “full review into why this happened”. He added: “I would like to sincerely apologise for the lack of updates provided to members as agreed at committee earlier this year. But let’s be clear what’s happened here: the contractor let us down, they walked off the job despite tremendous efforts of our officers.”

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This years events will now be run by Unique Assembly, a consortium formed in the wake of the fiasco, which stepped in and is set to deliver ‘core’ elements of the Christmas programme but without some new attractions included in the previous agreement.

Green culture spokesman Dan Heap said: "The council should look to Munich, where the Christmas market has been operating since the 14th century, and has been successfully run by the city council for the majority of that time."