THE organiser of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations has warned it will be “impossible” to stage the event on its current scale if its budget is hit by council cutbacks.
Pete Irvine, the producer of the capital’s lucrative festivities since they were launched in 1993, says the scaling back of the event, which is currently staged over three days, will be inevitable.
And he warned any such moves could have a dramatic impact on the benefits the city gets from the festival.
Mr Irvine said recent research had found that last year’s Hogmanay celebrations generated £41 million, but pointed out the figure does not include the value of global media coverage of the city’s events.
Ironically, the proposed cuts emerged on the same day Mr Irvine unveiled a major expansion of the street party. The Royal Mile will be included in the celebrations for the first time in 16 years.
Councillors have suggested cutting the current £1.3 million budget for the city’s winter festivals by £500,000 for each of the next four years.
This is despite agreeing a new contract earlier this year with Mr Irvine’s company, Unique Events, and Underbelly, who produce the city’s Christmas festival.
It is understood the bulk of the council’s funding supports the Hogmanay festival, in particular the 75,000-capacity street party, which involves a huge security and safety operation, as well as widespread road closures.
If councillors rubber-stamp the proposal in December, the authority will be forced to re-tender the contract at a lower level, meaning any plans for next year’s event would have to be shelved.
Mr Irvine said: “A lot of the chat about this £500,000 is about Hogmanay. If that came out of the budget it would be very difficult for the event.
“We just couldn’t do the programme we have just announced with a cut of that size. It would be impossible.
“As a festival, Hogmanay is simply not commercial on its own. People can see that the Christmas side of things is a commercial venture.
“We have to make it all add up, but it’s not a profitable event. The profit is in the millions that it makes every year for others. The £40 million it generates is real and absolute. There’s no other reason for being in Edinburgh at this time of year.
“When we started this event Edinburgh was shut for business over Hogmanay. Everything is open and everything is full now. Most other cities would kill for the profile Edinburgh gets around the world.
“Hogmanay is a really high-profile event which happens to be largely funded by the city council.
“People just don’t know how it works, what things actually cost and what the risks are. They don’t realise that the main costs involve health and safety. It’s the things that you don’t see. Those costs are irreducible.”
The potential cut was revealed just months after a major report into the future of Edinburgh’s festivals warned the city faced slipping out of the premier division if funding levels could not be maintained in the face of a predicted “fiscal cliff.”
Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This year’s Hogmanay programme is very exciting and I think the event is going to be one of the best ever.
“Future budgets are a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council. It is not for the Scottish Government to interfere.
“However my message is very clear. Festivals and events are very much part and parcel of Scotland’s economy and it is important that we support them.
“As a festival city, what Edinburgh has to look at going forward is how the city maintains and grows its reputation, and attracts more visitors.”
Richard Lewis, the council’s festivals and events champion, said the proposed cut was a “very modest one” bearing in mind the authority was facing a deficit of £140 million over the next four years.
He added: “This is nothing more than a proposal at the moment. It was decided that it should go forward into the budget proposals to see what the response is.
“I’ve made it very clear that if the winter festivals can be produced at a cheaper cost and a saving can be made then it should be reinvested in other festivals and events.”