Edinburgh Christmas market contract collapsed over ‘differences of opinion’

Monday October 10th 2022


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

A multi-million pound deal between Edinburgh Council and an events firm to run the capital’s annual Christmas market collapsed following “differences of opinion” about what could realistically be delivered, bosses have claimed.

Councillors met today in a last ditch attempt to save Edinburgh’s Christmas – which comprises festive market stalls and amusements around the city centre – and were told a last-minute agreement secured with a new company will see a slimmed-down festival delivered compared to the programme initially proposed.

Elements included in the original £5.5m five-year deal between the authority and Angel Event Experience (AEE) – including a zip wire on George Street, a funfair on East Market Street and a new marketplace on Castle Street to enable local third sector organisations to trade for free will no longer be delivered.

More traditional aspects including market stalls at Princes Street Gardens and the George Street ice rink will still go ahead as planned under a new contract with Unique Assembly.

Paul Lawrence, the council’s director of place, said after councillors signed off AEE as the preferred contractor in June officials “worked closely with the contractor to try and deliver the approach that they had set out”.

However, he added: “It became apparent over time that there were significant issues associated with the delivery of aspects of that programme – practical issues, time issues, other issues – and officers kept working extremely hard to deliver what the council had agreed with the contractor.

And he revealed that throughout the process of planning the festival there were “some differences of opinion and matters of tension between ourselves and the contractors”.

He said officers were aware of “significant work” required to fulfil some parts of the agreed contract, adding the council staff involved in the process will “look at the procurement approach we’ve used here and suggest whether alternatives might be better suited”.

“There never has been any question that officers would seek to vary the programme without going back to elected members,” Mr Lawrence told councillors at the emergency finance committee meeting this week.

Mr Lawrence, who oversees planning, housing and transport for the council, also apologised for not keeping councillors better briefed about the fiasco, adding that it was a “very challenging” time for officers as they attempted to rescue the deal.

“We do acknowledge that some kind of probably verbal update should have been given sooner.” he said. “We could have done that and we apologise to members for that. There was no intention to keep anything from members and every intention to deliver the contract.”

He continued: “We’ve suffered in the past from the issue that what the contractor has delivered has not been something that the city has been proud to host, members signed off the contract therefore members agreed the programme to be delivered.

“Therefore what officers tried to do throughout this process, which has been sometimes quite challenging, quite challenging circumstances with a lot of other things going on at the same time, have been trying to ensure that what was delivered was what the council signed up to.

“It was only when it became apparent that that was not possible that we immediately informed elected members through the all-party oversight group mechanism that we did not believe that to be the case and we had to seek to make a change.”

Officials did not reveal how much money Unique Assembly, which has already begun to apply for planning permission for market stalls and rides, would pay the council under the new arrangement.

And it is understood AEE will remain involved as a sub-contractor as the company has already secured several local traders for the market.

Councillor Lesley Macinnes, SNP, said that “about four fifths” of the original offering has been “taken off the table” and asked whether or not there was an opportunity at an earlier stage in the process to prevent that from happening.

Mr Lawrence replied: “Having used the process we used clearly we were then in a contractual agreement with a certain party and at that point the job at hand is to work with them to deliver the programme which they had been contracted to deliver.”

Conservative councillor Phil Doggart said: “I’m puzzled as to why we didn’t ask the right questions initially.”

Meanwhile the Green Party’s Alex Staniforth asked if there was a “significant risk” that Unique Assembly will be not able to get planning and licensing permissions in time for the opening of Edinburgh’s Christmas on November 19.

Mr Lawrence admitted the timetable will be “tight” but he added he was confident there would be enough time if councillors were swift in making the decision to re-award the contract.

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