Edinburgh festivals told not to leave volunteers ‘out of pocket’

Visitors to this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe enjoy acts on the Royal Mile. Picture: Jon Savage
Visitors to this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe enjoy acts on the Royal Mile. Picture: Jon Savage
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Festivals in the Capital will be ordered to make sure volunteers recruited to help at events are not left “out of pocket” in future.

The city council wants “reasonable” expenses to be paid to all volunteers in future after crunch talks with festival organisers in the wake of claims that some events were deliberately exploiting unpaid staff.

A new code of conduct will insist volunteers are not deployed to replace any paid positions to cover for staff involved in an industrial dispute.

All event organisers must spell out plans to use volunteers when they are applying for council contracts in future. They are also being asked to provide training, support and development to all volunteers.

The ten-point plan has been drawn up in the wake of growing concern over the use of volunteers at major events like the Fringe and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival, which introduced its first scheme last year.

An official report has warned councillors of the need for a “consistent set of guidelines” to provide assurance that both volunteers and festivals benefit from any initiatives that are put in place, and that paid roles are not replaced by volunteers.

Council officials have worked with Festivals Edinburgh – the umbrella body for the city’s flagship events – to draw up the volunteering code of conduct. The document has been 
unveiled just weeks after the local authority published a new code of conduct recommending all staff working at the festivals are paid a “living wage” of £7.83 an hour.

Paul Lawrence, the council’s director of place, said: “Volunteering has become a key element of most major festivals and events, recognising the important role that volunteers provide in welcoming and assisting event attendees and event organisers.

“While volunteering is 
undertaken on a non-contractual basis, it is important that volunteers are treated fairly and benefit from the experience.

“In order to protect the volunteer and the organisation, a code of practice has been developed to clearly define what is expected of organisations who use volunteers, how the volunteers should be treated, what benefits should be available and to ensure that volunteer roles are not used to replace paid employment.”

City culture convener Donald Wilson said: “As the world’s leading festival city, Edinburgh offers some of the most sought after volunteering opportunities available. They provide people with the chance to be part of the beating heart of Edinburgh in August and at Hogmanay, and are proven to help individuals develop incredible career and social skills. We recognise we have a responsibility to promote best practice. We also want to ensure our festivals provide positive experiences for all who take part.

“That is why we have worked with relevant partners and festival bodies to develop this draft set of guidelines, which set out a standard which we would hope and expect organisers and others to adopt.”