Hogmanay volunteering scheme returns despite '˜exploitation' claim

Organisers of Edinburgh's Hogmanay are to revive a controversial volunteering scheme '“ despite admitting they only managed to recruit a fraction of the 'ambassadors' they were looking for last year.

Midnight fireworks shot from the Scott Monument . Picture: Wullie Marr Photography

An official report on the event has revealed that just 55 people were recruited for the three-day festival – only 24 of whom worked on Hogmanay.

Promoters Underbelly faced claims of “mass exploitation” from trade unions and politicians in the run-up to the festivities after launching an appeal for 300 volunteers to work at the main events.

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Potential volunteers were offered only meal vouchers and travelling expenses in return for their time by Underbelly.

The company insisted that none of the ambassadors were being deployed in roles which were paid a wage in previous years.

Underbelly insisted the vast majority of the 55 volunteers who got involved last year said they would sign up again.

The firm insists the introduction of the event’s first ever volunteering scheme was “a great success” and blamed negative media coverage for the withdrawal of dozens of other volunteers in the run-up to last year’s festival.

It emerged earlier this year that council officials wanted to cover up the fact less than 100 volunteers had signed up to volunteers in advance following weeks of criticism of the volunteering scheme, including in the Scottish Parliament.

Ed Bartlam, director of Underbelly, which has also revealed that 2813 staff were paid to work at the event, said: “Our plan is to continue with our ambassadors programme. We will continue to listen to the opinions of people, but we think it’s the right thing to do. The people who did it last year had a good time.

“We weren’t trying to replace paid-for jobs. It was a volunteering programme just like there are at lots of other festivals and events across the UK.

“There are plenty of other festivals and events which use volunteers in the wrong way. We believe we did it the right way. We employ a hell of a lot of people at the Fringe and Hogmanay, all of whom are at least paid the living wage. We’re a huge employer in this city. That should be applauded.”

Fellow director Charlie Wood added: “People genuinely had a great time. The only piece of negative feedback we had was that some people felt the criticism in the press was a shame because it marred their experience.

We will be doing it again, but it’s too early to say how many we’ll be looking for this year.”