Christmas contract awarded despite legal threat from rival bidder

Saturday May 4th 2024

Edinburgh-Christmas-2023


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Edinburgh Christmas market and Hogmanay operators have been awarded a new contract to run the events for another three years, despite the threat of legal action against the council by a rival bidder.

GC Live wrote to councillors raising “serious concerns” about the procurement process, claiming the council did not properly evaluate its bid in line with its own contracting rules – or scrutinise the financial position of Unique Assembly, which it lost out to.

It said it was preparing to launch a legal action in the Court of Session and had “instructed solicitors to review the procurement documentation”.

A spokesperson for the Bathgate-based company said they were “understandably disappointed” councillors rejected their plea to reject the officers’ recommendation to renew its deal with Unique Assembly. The consortium consisting of Assembly Festival and Unique Events Limited first stepped in at the eleventh hour to run Edinburgh’s Winter festival in 2022, following a previous procurement fiasco.

GC Live said after being “encouraged to apply by the council” and investing “considerable resources” it received “no response to valid queries we raised relating to the procurement process”.

Council bosses said they did a “range of due diligence checks” and were quizzed on the specifics of the dispute by councillors in a behind-closed-door session at the finance and resources committee on Tuesday, February 30.

Withdrawing an amendment to delay awarding the contract, Lib Dem councillor Neil Ross said he felt reassured “legally, financially and contractually” by the officers’ responses to the issues raised in GC Live’s letter, as the decision was passed.

Edinburgh Labour councillor Katrina Faccenda said in a post on X committee members were “being rushed towards making a decision,” adding: “It is time to stop and scrutinise.”

In a preceding public discussion on the contract, Cllr Lewis Younie, Lib Dems, pressed officers on “probity and when we started to ask people for financial information”.

An official said specification included a “minimum turnover requirement which was equal to twice the value of the expected contract award” and then “further checks were undertaken”.

Another added: “We agreed it was appropriate to do further due diligence as the end of the tender process approached and therefore we built in additional checks . . . so that meant that rather than looking back which is what we would have done in the October time we were asking bidders to provide more up to date financial information about their organisations.

“We also advised we would do a range of due diligence checks on the back of that – not just turnover and not just threshold, but we would also look more intently at other external financial information that was available.

“For example, credit reference checks would form part of that, we would look at balance sheets, we would look at cash in bank. So we looked and provided a lot more rigour around all of those areas before we were satisfied with the outcome.

“We also asked additional questions of bidders where appropriate to get an explanation of any figures we weren’t sure about and get more detail around that.”

Estimated rental income to the council for the three years plus two optional 12-month contracts with Unique Assembly “will range between a minimum of £405,000 and £1,507,500 over the course of the contract term, subject to planning permission, licensing and site availability,” a report said.

A spokesperson for GC Live said: “We are understandably disappointed to hear about the City of Edinburgh Council’s decision on the tender award for the CT2978 Edinburgh Winter Festivals’ contract because we have had no response to valid queries we raised relating to the procurement process.

“GC Live submitted a tender for the account having been encouraged to apply by the Council as part of the formal process.

“After investing considerable resources in a four stage, six-month long process, initial recommendations for the bid appointment were published on 25th April. Having identified potential flaws in the process, we responded to those recommendations through the appropriate Council channels but were told to wait until today’s F&R committee meeting.

“We had heard nothing back from the council so sought legal advice and sent a private letter requesting a pause on the final award of the contract.

“This request was made to ensure that the probity and lawfulness of the council’s decision and tender scoring could be provided and as a tenderer, our concerns alleviated.

“Even as of today, we have had no response or any official correspondence from the Council apart from what’s been made available publicly and now considering our position while we await further information.”


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Meanwhile Labour council leader Cammy Day, who said ahead of the meeting said the authority had “taken a different approach to procuring this contract this year” was criticised for making a “comment on the award of contract before the contract was awarded by this committee,” by Cllr Younie.

Cllr Faccenda’s X post said Day was “making it sound like it was already awarded before the meeting”.

Finance and resources convener Mandy Watt, Labour, admitted the council leader “pushed it probably a bit further than would have been ideal”.

She said: “I’ll feed that back to him and check with the media briefing team that we make sure we get these kind of things quite accurate when there are contracts and legal things.”

Commenting after the report was approved, Cllr Day said: “I’d like to congratulate Unique Assembly following today’s unanimous decision by councillors. They bring decades of experience in delivering major events, including our own Winter Festivals, and I’m confident that they’ll provide a fantastic service to the city over the next three years.

“The festivals occupy a central element in the cultural calendar of our city and delivering them well for our residents and visitors remains a key priority for us – not least given the huge enjoyment they bring each year. They also deliver substantial economic benefit for the city and for Scotland more widely, supporting jobs and businesses in many sectors most notably tourism, hospitality, and leisure.”

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