Edinburgh’s Christmas market fiasco has exposed “significant issues” around how the council awards and manages contracts, councillors have said following an emergency meeting to save the festival.
The capital’s popular winter attractions will still go ahead despite plans being thrown into chaos in recent weeks by the organisers’ decision to walk away.
The council said Angel Event Experience (AEE) asked to be released from the £5.5m contract when it became apparent they were unable to follow through with a commitment to bring in some new Christmas attractions – including a zip wire on George Street.
Council leader Cammy Day said there will be a “full review into why this happened”.
AEE are still set to have “limited involvement” to “ensure the 70 stallholders and local businesses who had been expecting to trade can still do so”.
It has been reported the German firm could still stand to make a “substantial profit” despite walking away from the deal.
At crunch talks on Monday, councillors on the finance committee agreed to re-award the contract to Unique Assembly, a local firm already involved in putting on the city’s famous Hogmanay celebrations, who have pledged to deliver the “core” elements of the festival, such as the Princes Street markets and ice rink on George Street.
But they said the frantic events of the last two weeks have raised serious questions about the council’s procurement processes, whilst there was anger about councillors being kept out of the loop.
Speaking at the emergency committee, Edinburgh City Council’s director of place Paul Lawrence apologised for not updating councillors about the situation sooner.
Mr Lawrence explained “differences of opinion” about what could realistically be delivered led to the original plans falling through.
Following the fiasco the Conservatives have called for more information to be given to elected members on how procurement systems work around big projects like the city’s Christmas festival.
Tory group leader Iain Whyte said after the meeting: “It’s pretty clear that the procurement here hasn’t served us well and hasn’t delivered what was hoped for.
“Councillors really do need to scrutinise this more closely going forward to ensure that any future contracts really deliver for the city.”
Cllr Whyte said while he felt most councillors were “kept in the dark,” he didn’t necessarily agree with others that the blame lay at the council leader’s door.
“I think officers were trying to solve problems here and it obviously got to the stage where it all blew up and things weren’t going to deliver,” he added. “Perhaps officers should have alerted councillors earlier that there were difficulties.”
The Green Group’s Alys Mumford, who was also at the meeting, said: “This has revealed significant issues with how the council procurement processes operate, which will need to be examined in the coming months.
“We’re grateful to council staff for jumping into action to find a solution which still honours the principles which the people of Edinburgh highlighted as being important in our Christmas celebrations, but there are serious questions to be asked about how much the administration knew, and how they allowed this to go on for so long without other parties, local councillors, and the finance and resources committee being updated.”
Meanwhile, the SNP launched a scathing attack on the Labour administration for “incompetence” they said “may cost the city millions of pounds”.
The group’s finance spokesperson Cllr Lesley Macinnes said: “We learned that the council leader was aware of issues with the delivery of the contract and failed to act and kept information from councillors. This was directly contrary to the agreement of councillors in June that demanded regular information to monitor progress.
“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.
“Committee agreed the administration has shown contempt for council and, in their failure to do their job and unwillingness to take responsibility, have failed the Edinburgh public.”
Cllr Lewis Younie said Liberal Democrat councillors “are relieved that a contract has been agreed which will deliver Christmas in Edinburgh”.
However, he added: “We are deeply concerned that disaster was only narrowly averted, and so we will be pressing for sustained and forensic scrutiny over the entire process that nearly cancelled Christmas.”