Emails reveal row over unpaid Edinburgh’s Hogmanay workers

Edinburgh Council officers feared a backlash when they discovered volunteers on duty at Hogmanay would not be receiving any benefits. Picture: Wullie Marr
Edinburgh Council officers feared a backlash when they discovered volunteers on duty at Hogmanay would not be receiving any benefits. Picture: Wullie Marr
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A dossier of emails over controversial plans to bring in hundreds of unpaid workers for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations has revealed widespread behind-the-scenes concerns over the fall-out from the recruitment drive.

Disarray within the city council over whether to endorse the planned use by new organisers of more than 300 volunteers has emerged in documents released under freedom of information legislation.

Council officers feared a public backlash against the event when they discovered volunteers on duty at the main Hogmanay festival events would not be receiving any benefits for giving their time to the event.

The Hogmanay festival became embroiled in a furious row in the middle of November after event producer Underbelly issued an appeal for hundreds of unpaid “ambassadors” to work shifts of up to 12 hours at a time.

The appeal stated: “We’re looking for street party ambassadors with a ‘happy to help’ attitude.

“You’ll be the friendly hosts and info points for the thousands of people that come to the Street Party, show people around and give out helpful information in the event arena.”

However the scheme was branded “absolutely outrageous” and mass exploitation” by politicians and union leaders, who later claimed the plan was illegal.

Underbelly wrote to the council ahead of showdown talks with campaigners against the exploitation of event workers to say it had been “reassured” by advice from a specialist employment lawyer – but it capitulated and agreed to pay nearly 50 managers and supervisors.

It has emerged that senior event officers were still asking for “clarity” over the various unpaid roles the company was recruiting for more than two weeks after the scheme had been made public. The emails also reveal complaints from Underbelly about “negative” press coverage over its plans causing distress and concern to volunteering organisations and people who signed up for the initiative, and a bid to get a senior councillor to lobby on the firm’s behalf.

Council officers wanted to cover up the fact less than 100 volunteers had been recruited ahead of the event.

They also wanted to water down a commitment from the council’s culture convener to ensure clear volunteering guidelines were in place for future events and festivals in the wake of the Hogmanay controversy.

A spokesman for the city council said it was unable to say whether volunteers would be used at this year’s Hogmanay festival.

He added: Underbelly is currently researching and preparing an evaluation of the event, including the ambassadors scheme, which will be reported to the council’s culture committeee in due course.”

No-one at Underbelly was available for comment.

EMAIL FIREWORKS:

Email from council officer: “Please note that the volunteers programme is not within the scope of the contract and was not included in the tender.”

Email from council officer: “Feels a bit bah humbug to me that they won’t get any Xmas or Hoggers freebies.”

Email from producer Underbelly: “I’m afraid the other side’s position is myopic and therefore incomplete. I’m confident of our moral position and the fact that this is all being done for the right reasons.”