Report finds Harrogate Christmas Market needs more "professional approach"

Harrogate Christmas Market
Harrogate Christmas Market

A more “professional” approach is needed for the running of the Harrogate Christmas Market, according to an independent council commisioned review.

The report, undertaken by Malcolm Veigas Consultancy, was commissioned following concerns over the size of the event and the fact that it is run by volunteers.

Despite the event growing since it launched in 2012 to attract more than 60,000 visitors to the 200 stalls last year, the report found that “personality clashes” have created a source of disharmony.

This breakdown in communications between Yorkshire Business Market, which runs the event, and the Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council lead to "mistrust on both sides".

However, the report stated that this has improved over recent months and that there was now a "clear ambition" from both sides to find a sustainable solution.

The report has now recommended that YBM adopts a more professional approach to running the market to reduce their exposure to risks.

The report stated: “YBM are now victims of their own success. Delivering an event of this size becomes a risk for YBM, the Council and its Officers due to the dependency on its volunteers.

“As such a revised method of operating with clear agreed definitions of roles and responsibilities would be the next step for YBM.”

Despite the council’s concerns of the effects of an “operational or reputational” problem with event, Brian Dunsby director of Harrogate Christmas Market, said it was already an “extremely professional event.”

He said: “The management is very professional and we are very well aware of that but certain licence officers have decided to nit pick.

"This is only the fifth year we have put the market on and we have come from nowhere to become a national market to the extent that Virgin trains are running specific trains to the market.

“It needs to be treated with respect as a major attraction for the town and not an excuse for more bureacratic procedures which is what tends to happen. They need to trust the organisation and let us get on with it.”

During a meeting held on April 20, YBM and their volunteers said they felt the council were now "changing their stance" regarding the Christmas Market because of its success.

However, the council said there needed to be more clarity around the number of volunteers and their roles and level of responsibilities.

Also, as the market is promoted as Harrogate Christmas Market, HBC raised concerns over their position should there be an "operational or reputational" problem with the event.

Mr Dunsby said the council were right to be "cautious" but said that they were in control of issues including overcrowding and protection of the Stray.

He said: "We have taken action to widen the gangways to ease congestion and we've not had any help from the council with that.

"We have moved the stalls to protect the grass and have made huge efforts to protect the crowds that come here.

"There is plenty of space to walk about in comfort and it's a lot less busy if you come in the morning or the early evening. But in the peak of the afternoon it does get quite congested."

Coun Michael Harrison, cabinet member for Environment, Waste Reduction and Recycling said: “The council has a strong relationship with the organisers – the Yorkshire Business Market - and the report reviews the existing market and considers what opportunities there are to ensure that the event can be successfully delivered each year.

"It is not unusual for events that are growing to experience some difficulties with issues such as management, licencing, location and transport management, and we have worked together to help address these issues and will continue to do so in the future.

“The market has become an important Christmas attraction for the town and is extremely popular with both residents and visitors. There is no doubt that the event will continue to grow and we look forward to working with the Yorkshire Business Market to ensure its continued success.”

At a meeting last night, Wednesday, the Cabinet agreed to offer YBM a three-year agreement, subject to their compliance with the recommendations made in the report.