Highland Council has been accused of “missing a money-making opportunity” after it decided that it would not be viable to take on the running of the biggest piping event of the year.
A private events firm in Inverness went on to be awarded the contract to host the championships in the Highland capital for the next three years – a decision that was hailed as a “huge economic boost” to the region when it was announced.
Councillor Margaret Paterson has now questioned the rationale of the authority’s events and festivals working group which decided not to manage the championships after its “obvious success” in Forres, where 20,000 attended last month. The event is held annually at the end of June.
In Moray, it was organised by a community run company formed especially for the championships, Forres Events Ltd, which had the support of 400 volunteers.
Leader of Moray Council Graham Leadbitter said: “It was an amazing event. We are talking about more than 100 pipe bands playing and all the people coming to watch that spectacle. It is an incredible number of people and an incredible amount of talent that descends on the area. The local businesses do fantastically well out of it. It was very well received by the people in Forres and the Moray community.”
Piping fan Mrs Paterson, who represents Dingwall and Seaforth, said: “I am obviously delighted Inverness has been chosen to host such a prestigious event, for both the city and the Highlands, but am concerned why the council did not bid to be hosts.
“At times of austerity, this could have been a potential money-maker for us. I think it is a lost opportunity to Highland Council. The championships will attract thousands.
“A private company will now go on and make what could be a substantial profit.”
The working group met in October last year where events manager Gerry Coutts “provided information on the bidding process” but “outlined possible challenges of hosting the event locally”.
The minutes stated: “Concern was expressed regarding the three-year commitment to host the event and the significant amount of money which was required up front without a guarantee of success.”
It also said the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association had not been flexible about dates.
The group members went on to agree that making a bid as hosts “was not a viable option”.
David Haas, Highland Council’s Inverness city area manager, added that when they had become aware Forres was no longer to be hosts he consulted the working group to see if they were minded to support a bid.
He added: “In considering matters members were made aware of the very significant financial and in kind support that the event received at Forres.
“The current events strategy adopted by the city area committee when setting up the events and festivals working group is focussed on providing a core series of events that are funded to support economic vibrancy during the low season.
“Hence the focus on Hogmanay and autumn.
“The European Pipe Band Championships take place in high season and noting this, along with the significant financial risk, members believed it best to continue to fund the yearly events programme which is also designed to encourage the private sector to develop their own events.”
Inverness councillor Duncan MacPherson agreed with the officials that taking on the games would be a “big risk” particularly if it was hit three years running by rain – resulting in declining crowds.
He added that a private operator would be able to run the bar and make “huge profits from its own prices” whereas the council, as licensing authority, would have to recruit a private firm to run it.
LCC Live were the only private bidder
Several local authorities in Scotland had made a bid to host the European Pipe Band Championships for the next three years – but not Highland.
The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) announced that Inverness was to become new hosts three weeks ago, with Highland events firm LCC Live chosen as the winner.
It was the only private company to make the selection process.