Council to pursue global law firm over ‘flawed’ tram advice
Plus: Is the premium whisky boom coming to an end?; hospitality venues protest late licence cut; bakery’s Caramac stockpile.
The city council is set to pursue its legal advisors on the tram project for compensation in the belief it failed to properly warn them of just how serious the risks were that costs would soar.
The local authority believes it has a strong case against global law firm DLA Piper in the wake of Lord Hardie’s damning inquiry report into the disastrous construction of the original line from the airport to York Place. The total cost of the nine-mile line rose from £545m to £852m.
DLA Piper, which has offices in more than 40 countries and is the third largest law firm in the United States by revenue, advised both the council and the arms-length company which the local authority set up to oversee the tram project, tie.
The council started legal action against DLA in 2013, but put it on hold ahead of the tram inquiry. It is now expected to restart its claim believing its case has been bolstered by Lord Hardie’s inquiry.
The context: In 2008, amid huge pressure to get the delayed construction work back on track, tie wanted to formally declare an agreement with the main contractors BBS despite key elements not yet being nailed down. DLA warned tie that this was premature, but tie went ahead, handing BBS the advantage in future cost negotiations. DLA did not give the same warning to the council.
What Lord Hardie said: In his inquiry report, he states: “Despite the fact that CEC (the city council) was the client for the project and bore the responsibility for any cost overruns, DLA gave primacy to the obligations owed to tie.”
What DLA said: The legal firm has consistently and robustly defended its role. During the tram inquiry, Roddy Dunlop QC, representing DLA, said the risks involved were “blindingly obvious” and responsibility lay with the council’s lawyers to read and assess the agreement.
Glasgow to Follow Edinburgh’s Lead on Housing?
A tenants’ organisation has called on councillors in Glasgow to follow Edinburgh’s lead and declare a housing emergency following the publication of new figures which showed 6588 homeless people are stuck in temporary accommodation in the city – with 2624 of them children.
Campaign group the Scottish Tenants Organisation made the demand of Glasgow City Council. Last month, national figures released by Shelter Scotland revealed that 9585 children across the country had officially been declared homeless.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
PUBS’ FESTIVE HOURS CUT: The hospitality industry is protesting against a proposed cut in the number of days pubs and clubs will be allowed to open later over Christmas and New Year in Edinburgh. The Capital has usually allowed licensed premises an extra two hours from 18 December until 3 January, but the city’s licensing board intends to restrict that extension so that the later opening will not apply on Monday and Tuesday, 18 and 19 December, and Wednesday, January 3. See tomorrow’s exclusive newsletter for paid members for more.
VENUE AXED: Black Axe Throwing Company is the latest hospitality venue to shut in the Capital, announcing the closure of their venue in Beaverhall Road, Broughton, on 22 November with a post on social media which reads: "It is with great sadness that we have to announce the closure of our Edinburgh venue. We'd like to say a massive thank you to all our amazing guests, our incredible team both past and present, and all of the awesome people who have helped us along the way. It has been a difficult ride over the last few years and this is a very tough decision to say goodbye.”
KAFE KWEER: Another city hospitality business has opened up about its struggles. The popular LGBT+ friendly shop, cafe and art space Kafe Kweer in Bruntsfield has warned it risks closure in the face of rising winter fuel costs and a drop in customers and is urging the public to support them and other local independent traders. It has encouraged customers to make more use by “buying a coffee and a pastry, or lunch” and also revived a fundraising campaign which helped it open its doors three years ago.
SECOND HOMES TAX: Thousands of second home owners face a steep rise in their council tax bills from next year under new powers being handed to local authorities. Councils will be able to charge double the standard rate - £1,950 for an average Band D property in Edinburgh, £4,550 for the most expensive - from April under plans laid before the Scottish Parliament. There are currently 1,660 second homes registered for council tax rebates in Edinburgh, 480 in East Lothian and 2,374 in Fife.
SELF-CATERERS PAY MILLIONS: Self-caterers in Edinburgh – including operators of so-called Airbnb-style lets – have so far had to pay £2.6 million to City of Edinburgh Council in non-refundable licensing fees in the controversial new short-term let licensing scheme. The information was obtained through Freedom of Information request by the trade body, The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers. The body also said the figures demonstrated how few secondary lets – entire properties rented out as a business – are being approved in Scotland’s Capital. At the time of the request there had only been 3,573 short-term lets applications. Around half of these applications (1,828) were secondary lets. Just 36 of these properties have had their application approved, 22 of which operate all year. The figures have increased marginally in recent days.
BUS LANE FINES INCREASE: Fines for other vehicles driving in bus lanes will increase from £60 to £100 - with a reduction to £50 for prompt payment - under city council plans. The local authority says the problem is causing increasing delays for the two million passengers a week travelling on Lothian buses. The move will need the approval of the Scottish Government.
MUSIC PROTEST: More than 2,500 people have signed a petition calling for Leith’s Central Bar to have its music licence reinstated. The pub has been staging live music and karaoke for decades but lost its licence after noise complaints from neighbours.
GREEN AGAIN: Neglected green spaces and tired parkland areas are being offered a welcome new lease of life in the City. A total of £1.213 million is being set aside for improvements. David Kyles, one of the city’s parks and greenspace officers, is encouraging community councils and elected Friends or Community groups to apply for a ‘Place Based Investment Fund' (PBIP) for projects in 2025. This is to improve the green spaces and public realm in the city and promote active travel projects. The deadline for applications in 31 March 2024.
CARAMAC STOCKPILE: The baker whose Facebook post alerted the world to the demise of the Caramac bar has stockpiled 20 boxes so she can keep using them to make eclairs and doughnuts. Paula Swan’s recipes using the caramel bars are a hit at her Pastel bakery in Newtongrange, Midlothian. She did not know she was breaking the news, which she was told by a supplier, until millions of people read her post and manufacturer Nestlé had to issue a statement confirming the story.
STUDENT PLANS: Sight Scotland and property developer, S Harrison Developments, have jointly submitted a planning application to redevelop the site of the charity’s former HQ on Gillespie Crescent into student homes. The funds released will enable the charity to expend its services. Sight Scotland occupied the building for nearly a century and continue to repair and maintain it, despite vacating the building early in 2021 as it was no longer fit for purpose prior to taking the decision to sell it. Proposals include demolition of the existing vacant building and erection of purpose-built student accommodation, with a total of 145 bedrooms. It will 100% cycle parking provision.
COATS OF KINDNESS: The Leith Collective, a community interest company, is calling on businesses, organisations and individuals throughout the UK to register as Winter Coat Exchange collection points to help redistribute good quality coats to those who need them, free of charge, during the cold winter months. The business, which supports artist and artisan-makers in Edinburgh and Glasgow, redistributed 7000 coats last year and says demand this year is “unprecedented.” Sign up at the website Providing Coats for those in Need – We Relove (we-relove.com)
IT'S A RARITY: National drinks wholesaler Inverarity Morton has given its Bonnie & Wild bottle shop a major rebrand following “a successful two years of trade and collaboration” within the St James Quarter Food Hall. Rarity is a boutique bottle shop, providing access to some special and rare whiskies and wines. Rarity has also unveiled its first wave of events in the run-up for Christmas, with distillers and producers from across the country coming to the venue for tastings, talks and meet the makers.
RACECOURSE DAMAGE: Vandals set light to and destroyed one of the steeplechase fences at Musselburgh Racecourse in the early hours of the morning before the first meeting of the jump season. “It is not something that can be easily replaced, it takes a huge amount of work to repair,” racecourse general manager Bill Farnsworth told The Racing Post. “Just cutting the birch is a huge task in itself. It’s a big job and very expensive.”
Diageo, the makers of Johnnie Walker, Guinness and Bailey’s Irish Cream, are not having a vintage year – and life got decidedly worse last week, writes Kenny Kemp. The company saw its biggest fall in share price since 1997, and issued a profit warning after international sales slumped. The share price has dropped by 21% in the last year.
The question among Edinburgh’s whisky aficionados, is are we seeing the beginning of the end of the global premium whisky boom that has sustained the industry for the last 20 years?
Diageo has had a trying year. The group’s chief executive Ivan Menezes died suddenly in June, aged 63, weeks before he was due to retire. Debra Crew, the former chief operating officer, was chosen as his successor. In her response to the recent results: “Unfortunately, macroeconomic pressures have worsened and that has caused lower consumption and more consumer downtrading that what the team was expecting.”
Sales of the premium whisky, Johnnie Walker, bottled in Leven, the world’s best selling whisky by some margin, have been badly impacted. Instead drinkers are choosing cheaper tipples, such as Old Barr and Black & White.
The company’s expectation had been that sales in Latin America and the Caribbean, between July and December 2022, would be around 2% higher. But the shock news was the company announced a decline of more than 20%. As a result, profits have been lower.
The company, which has major operations in Fife and is a significant employer elsewhere in Scotland, does pay a massive amount of duty to the UK coffers, but there will be questions over whether the whisky boom is running out of steam.
If this is a trend, then Edinburgh’s hospitality trade needs to sit up and pay heed. In many Edinburgh five-star establishments, premium whisky has an incredible mark-up. One example is The Register Club, in the Cheval, the Edinburgh Grand, where the cost of a premium double Scotch, 50ml, might be £13 for Johnnie Walker Gold, £11 for a local Glenkinchie, but reaching an astonishing £130 for a Macallan 25 Sherry Oak. Who is paying - and will it continue in the current economic climate?
One analyst, James Edwardes Jones, of RBC, told The Times: “Our concern is that Diageo is facing a widespread retrenchment in premium spirit consumption caused by macroeconomic pressures around the world with an unknown end date.”
So is this the start of the decline in premium whisky which has buoyed the sector in Scotland? If so, it is not good news for Scotland.
BROADBAND ACHIEVERS: Scotland’s Minister for Small Business, Trade and Innovation, Richard Lochhead, told a gathering in Edinburgh, that broadband connectivity was the lifeblood of every business. In congratulating, Openreach on its major milestone of one million premises being connected in Scotland. Mr Lochhead, who has been an MSP since 1999, said: “It is incredible to think how the world has changed so fast…. we’re celebrating one million being connected with hi-speed fibre. We’ve come a long way in a short space of time ... and Scotland’s potential is enormous in this regard.”
He singled out the expansion of AI, the likes of the Data Fest in Edinburgh and Innovation Week, which have all been made possible with high-fibre connectivity. He said it was important for the public sector, the Scottish Government, which has invested £463m to connect 950,000 premises to fibre, to work with Openreach and other providers across the country to increase the coverage. He said on top of this investment, is R100, full-fibre, which is another £600m, helping Openreach connect another 114,000 premises across Scotland.
BIG DO FOR WE DO: Inquirer founder Kenny Kemp is among the participants in the WeDO Business Conference, Shaping Scotland’s Future and Championing Our Talents, on Wednesday at The Place, in Edinburgh. WeDO founder Belinda Roberts has once again put together a major Capital event featuring speakers Vikki Bruce, Adam Bostock, Dr Poonam Gupta, Ian McLeod Kerr and Dr Brian Williamson in conversation with Richard Simpson.
STARS APPEAR: Which stars will come out this year, when the Forth Awards return on Thursday from 3pm at the Usher Hall? The ceremony recognises people from the community, but also features some big names from the world of entertainment, with their identity a secret. Previous guests have included Texas, David Gray, Alesha Dixon and Sophie Ellis Bextor. The Forth Awards 2023 with St James Quarter | Usher Hall
FOLDING BACK THE YEARS: Known for his fusion of indie pop and classical orchestra, Ben Folds has packed just his piano and a playbook of his hits through the years to join him as he tours his first studio album What Matters Most. Ben Folds, Usher Hall, Saturday.
CHEF’S HOMECOMING: Edinburgh chef Barry Bryson and chef Matthew Reade from Lyle’s restaurant, in London, are staging a pop-up dining experience on Sunday and Monday, 12 and 13 November, in the Fruitmarket cafe, Market Street. Bryson, who started his catering career at the Fruitmarket, is one of the UK’s leading private chefs, having cooked for leading luxury brands, including Chanel and Louis Vuitton, and the artist Tracey Emin. The nights will showcase his pop-up fish restaurant ‘Barry Fish’.
TAPAS TASTE: Café Andaluz, the popular tapas restaurant brand, has opened a new venue in Stockbridge. The new 120-cover restaurant on Raeburn Place is the third Café Andaluz restaurant to open in the capital.
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
RIPPLE EFFECT: Award-winning authors and wild swimming instructors Vicky Allan and Anna Deacon will be joining Toppings booksellers to talk about their book The Ripple Effect, an ode to the wild swimming community. If you are thinking of taking the plunge or are looking for tips and tricks to brush up your technique, you can join them for the ticketed event at Greenside Church, on 21 November.
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