No U-turn over Hogmanay volunteers bid

Underbelly has the contract to run Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Ian Georgeson.
Underbelly has the contract to run Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

City leaders are refusing to pull the plug on controversial plans to recruit 300 unpaid workers for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations - despite claims that the plans have “lost all credibility” after a leading charity withdrew support for the scheme.

Donald Wilson, the city’s former Lord Provost, says Underbelly, the promoters awarded an £800,000 contract to take over the running of the event, should be praised for creating the Hogmanay Ambassadors initiative instead of berated.

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However Mr Wilson, currently the culture convenor at the city council, has suggested “clear guidelines” should be in place to ensure event organisers and volunteers are protected from criticism in future.

Volunteer Scotland removed adverts for the Hogmanay Ambassadors last week, citing a “long standing jointly signed charter with the STUC, which includes the key principle of volunteers not substituting for paid staff”.

Mr Wilson, who has insisted the council will only support organisations which pay the ‘living wage’ its staff, said he wanted to ensure that volunteering opportunities were “as strong as they should be” in future.

Underbelly, who have taken over the running of the Hogmanay celebrations from rival firm Unique Events, have introduced volunteers for the first time. But despite the event budget being reduced by around £500,000 by the city council, Underbelly has insisted they are not filling any “pair-for” roles.

Scottish Trade Union Council officials said Volunteer Scotland’s move to “disavow” Underbelly’s plans had cast doubt on the council’s support for the scheme, while Better Than Zero campaigners said the move raised questions about the council’s “inaction.”

Mr Wilson said the fact a “great many volunteers” will be waiting to greet the thousands of visitors expected to flood into the city at the end of the month “should be applauded.”

He added: “As the city’s Lord Provost for five years and Edinburgh’s Volunteering Ambassador, I had the honour of meeting and getting to know hundreds of volunteers.

“No two reasons for deciding to help at an event are the same, and no two volunteering opportunities are either.

“From wanting to do something completely different to enjoying the camaraderie and social side of volunteering, the feedback we’ve received from Underbelly is that this scheme has received strong interest from people of all ages and interests. I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to every single volunteer – the Hogmanay-makers and everyone who gave their time for our festivals in 2017 – for opting to help.

“Looking to the future, I will be interested in hearing from everyone involved to ensure opportunities for volunteers are as strong as they should be.

“The need for clear guidelines is of course an ongoing and complex national debate, but it is certainly a debate worth having to protect our fantastic volunteers and festival organisers alike from criticism.”