Marketing Edinburgh boss quits two months after £300k public funding cut

The figurehead of the body charged with selling Edinburgh to the rest of the world has quit - two months after its public funding was cut by a third.

John Donnelly. Pic: Greg Macvean
John Donnelly. Pic: Greg Macvean

John Donnelly has resigned after five years at the helm of Marketing Edinburgh, which had £300,000 slashed from its budget in February.

He had been outspoken in his criticism of proposals to strip the body of almost all of its subsidy from the local authority over the next two years.

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Councillors have been told it was “mutually decided” with his board that Mr Donnelly should leave the organisation, which is responsible for promoting Edinburgh as a destination for short breaks, staging conferences and events, shooting film and TV productions, and

Mr Donnelly had warned Edinburgh would be left “vulnerable” to economic decline, risked severing “critical pipelines” and claimed its efforts to attract inward investment, business conferences and film productions would be “severely compromised.”

In a letter to councillors in the run-up to its annual budget meeting he also said the city faced becoming “inward-looking and insular” if the cuts to his £890,000 budget went ahead.

However, despite winning the support of numerous marketing agencies and tourism bodies, an extensive lobbying campaign by Mr Donnelly was unsuccessful in reversing a proposed 89 per cent cut.

The council agreed to cut this year’s budget by a third, but ordered Mr Donnelly and his board, which is chaired by Edinburgh Airport communications director Gordon Robertson, to produce “a detailed strategy for transition to zero funding from the council.”

His depature from the post was confirmed less than a month after Mr Donnelly was named as one of the highest-paid public servants in Edinburgh. His £139,000 salary was higher than First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

It is understood Mr Donnelly’s resignation was accepted by Marketing Edinburgh’s board on Monday.

A statement issued on behalf of Marketing Edinburgh’s board said it was “appropriate time for John to leave the business” as the organisation attempted to “realise the challenges of functioning on minimal council funding.”

The statement added: “John has worked tirelessly over the past few years, building a talented, experienced team who are ready to continue the organisation’s invaluable work, start a new chapter and bring significant gain to the city.

“We will reflect on the skills we need to lead the business through this period of change before we find the right person.

“In the meantime, the organisation will continue to be supported by a strong, experienced board and its talented team. It’s very much business as normal.”

Mr Donnelly said: “It has been an honour to lead Marketing Edinburgh, from the introduction of the This is Edinburgh campaign, to increasing film production in the city, attracting millions of pounds worth of conferences and the building of an impressive partner network. However, given wider changes, the time was right to explore other opportunities.”

Depute council leader Cammy Day said: “John has been a true champion of the city in every way. He’s steered many award-winning creative campaigns, guiding Edinburgh’s reputation at home and abroad as the incredible place it is for business and tourism.”

Mr Donnelly is the second Marketing Edinburgh chief executive to quit in the wake of a dispute with the council since it was created in 2011. His predecessor Lucy Bird resigned after behind-the-scenes rows over political meddling in her first major campaign.