Edinburgh's Christmas 2022: Festival to go ahead under 'profit share' deal with new operators

Edinburgh has agreed a rescue deal to allow a scaled-back version of its Christmas festival to go ahead after new organisers pulled the plug on a multi-million pound contract weeks ahead of the event.

Councillors have agreed to hand control of the six-week festival to a consortium involving long-time Hogmanay organisers Unique Events and Fringe venue operator Assembly.

The two firms will be sharing an undisclosed share of the profits with the local authority, which had been expected to receive more than £1 million a year under its previous arrangement.

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The forthcoming festival, which will be launched a week later than planned, will see more than 70 market stalls and bars, as well as funfair rides and attractions, transform East and West Princes Street Gardens, and The Mound.

Edinburgh's Christmas festival will be returning at the end of November after an elevent-hour rescue deal was agreed by councillors.

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    A new series of festive shows and events will be staged by newly-formed consortium “Unique Assembly” at the Ross Bandstand in the west gardens, were a Spiegeltent venue will also operate. An ice rink is due to return to George Street, where new festive lighting and projections will also be introduced.

    However plans to expand the Christmas markets to the Royal Mile have been dropped.

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    The two companies, already working together on plans for the forthcoming new year festival, have secured a two-year deal to produce the Christmas festival, with next year's agreement subject to “pre-agreed performance measures” being met this year.

    Unique and Assembly are expected to bring in Angel Events Experience, a German Christmas market operator, which withdrew from its £5.4m contract, due to run for up to five years, after its plans proved unworkable.

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    Edinburgh's Christmas festival will be returning after councillors agreed to bring in a new consortium at the eleventh hour. Picture: Matt Beech

    The company was tasked with overhauling the Christmas festival after criticism of previous producer Underbelly, which had worked with AEE since it took over the event in 2013.

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    Key demands included reducing pressure on green space in the gardens, reducing the carbon footprint of the event, and easing crowd congestion problems.

    In a joint statement, Assembly founder William Burdett-Coutts and Unique director Penny Dougherty, said: ““It is our priority to ensure Edinburgh’s Christmas celebrations return in style for the benefit of the city, our fellow residents and visitors.

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    “While we’re taking on Edinburgh’s Christmas at very short notice, we fully understand how important these events are for the city and businesses who have already endured difficult times in recent years.”

    Opposition councillors claimed they were “kept in the dark” over the collapse over the £1m-plus contract agreed with the German firm.

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    SNP finance spokeswoman Lesley Macinnes said: “We’ve learned that the council leader was aware of issues with the delivery of the contract, failed to act and kept information from councillors.

    “This was directly contrary to the agreement of councillors.

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    “The big lesson learned from previous years is that this contract needs to be closely monitored. It’s now clear Labour were again asleep at the wheel and their incompetence may cost the city millions of pounds.”

    Council leader Cammy Day said: “We will, of course, conduct a full review, but our absolute priority is to ensure that we provide high-quality festive celebrations for the city – and that these should be delivered in the spirit of the feedback received in our consultation with residents, businesses and stakeholders.

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    “I’m sure we’ll enjoy many benefits by working closely with this experienced team of local event producers.”