Winter festivals spin doctor plan given the cold shoulder

THE city council has come under fire for creating a new £35,000-a-year job to promote Edinburgh's Hogmanay - despite spending almost £1.9 million a year on "spin doctors".

The Labour-controlled council is appointing a dedicated marketing and communications manager for the city's Hogmanay and other winter festival events.

The move has been condemned by opposition politicians critical of the council's "spin empire".

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However, there was confusion inside the council over the new appointment. The city's tourism leader councillor, Donald Anderson, initially said the move was part of a drive to step up the promotion of the city's Hogmanay celebrations, following the cancellation of last year's street party. Officials, however, insisted that all the work the new manager would do had previously been carried out by an outside consultant.

The council already employs around 50 public relations staff at an annual cost of nearly 1.9m.

The city's Liberal Democrat leader Jenny Dawe said today: "I don't see any need for Santa to have his own spin doctor."

The cost of the new appointment is expected to come out of the 1.2m spent each year by the council on the winter festivals.

Councillor Donald Anderson, the city's sports and culture leader, said: "This job is about much more than public relations. It is about pulling together and taking charge of the whole promotion of the largest winter festivals programme anywhere in the world.

"There is obviously a real need to step up promotion of the winter festivals after last year's Hogmanay cancellation, not so much in the rest of Scotland but overseas."

But a council spokeswoman insisted: "The winter festivals had previously brought in a consultant to do this work and the salary level and job description was exactly the same."

Cllr Anderson then said he had been "misinformed" about the new post.

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The winter festivals are said to generate at least 37m annually for the Capital's economy, although the eleventh-hour cancellation of the main Hogmanay celebrations tarnished the most recent event. Jenny Dawe, leader of the Lib Dem group on the council, said: "It is pretty difficult to justify the creation of a senior post like this when we already have so many public relations staff.

"We already have a manager for the winter festivals and I'd have thought marketing and communications would have been their responsibility.

"I'd have thought it would have been more useful to have a look at redeploying existing staff and involving other festivals, not just Christmas and Hogmanay."

Tory group leader Iain Whyte said: "We do need more joined-up marketing for our festivals, but if this member of staff is in addition to the spin empire the council has, I'd be very concerned.

"I'd have thought the work involved could be shared between some of our existing staff, especially bearing in mind the kind of figures the council spends on public relations and communications staff, which we need to try to reduce, not add to."

SNP group leader Steve Cardownie said: "I'm not so sure this is a wise way to spend public money and that it is really necessary to bring in an outsider for a job like this, particularly when it has a hefty price tag and is to promote a four-week festival. I'm sure a job like this would be on a lot of people's Christmas lists."

Edinburgh-based event organisers Unique Events has traditionally produced the Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations for the council.

It has been retained to run this year's Hogmanay celebrations, but will have to tender for the right to produce Christmas events and activities as part of the most recent changes ordered by the council. The job description for the post states: "We are seeking an experienced, highly organised, influential and creative person who can make a major contribution to the effective management and performance of Edinburgh's winter festivals through marketing and communications activities."