Edinburgh Hogmanay organisers vow to learn lessons on volunteers

Fireworks explode over Edinburgh Castle for Hogmanay celebrations
Fireworks explode over Edinburgh Castle for Hogmanay celebrations
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Organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations have defended the revival of a controversial volunteering scheme – but say lessons will be learned from its introduction last year.

Dozens of unpaid “Hogmanay Ambassadors” will be recruited again by producers Underbelly, who are in the second year of an £800,000 contract with the city council.

But it has drawn up new guidelines for its volunteers following talks with city council officials after the local authority published its own code of conduct for event organisers in the wake of the Hogmanay row.

Underbelly came under fire from union campaigners and politicians amid claims of “exploitation” by asking volunteers to work for free at an event worth around £39 million to the economy.

Underbelly has blamed poor communication for criticism of the scheme, which was overhauled at the 11th hour after some volunteers were moved into paid roles to defuse a growing dispute with union activists.

Underbelly had been hoping to hire up to 300 volunteers but ended up with just 55 –and only 24 were on duty at the main celebrations on Princes Street.

Underbelly director Ed Bartlam admitted the scheme was “clearly not without its detractors last year”.

But he declared that the company, one of the biggest operators on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, wanted to “tackle head-on some of the myths that were circulated before and after last year’s event”.

He also said more paid staff would be recruited to work on this year’s Hogmanay festival than the 2818 recruited for the 2017-18 event because of an expanded programme.

Mr Bartlam said: “The Hogmanay Ambassadors programme was never, and will never be, used to replace paid-for roles with volunteers. On the contrary, we actually employee people to facilitate the Hogmanay Ambassadors programme.

“We offer volunteering to those people who want to get involved for whatever their own reasons are but do not want to be employed.”

Co-director Charlie Wood said: “In the 18-year history of the Underbelly, last year was the first time we have run a scheme for volunteers.

“We’ve never employed them at any of events in Edinburgh, London or overseas. It was completely new ground for us and we hold our hands up and accept that we could have found ways to improve how we communicated the strategy for volunteers. We’re acutely aware that can be improved.

“But we did everything and we will do everything for the completely right reasons.”