Comment: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay volunteer row is just ‘bashing success’

Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood, directors of Edinburgh's Hogmanay, insist there is nothing wrong with having volunteers at the event. (Picture: Jon Savage)
Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood, directors of Edinburgh's Hogmanay, insist there is nothing wrong with having volunteers at the event. (Picture: Jon Savage)
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Row over volunteers at capital’s New Year party is just bashing success, write Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam, the directors of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

Much has been made of our Hogmanay Ambassador Programme. Facts have been turned into alternative facts. Accusations have been levied at us – exploitation, shirking our responsibilities as an employer, sacrificing security and profiteering.

And in the rush to condemn the programme and Underbelly as the producers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, we also see those who have chosen to join this volunteer programme painted as exploited workers, somehow forced into these positions.

The reality is very far from this.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is an event that will cost £3.3 million to produce this year – £1.1m of that cost is borne by the local and national public purse, the rest is earned income from ticket sales and other commercial revenue. It’s a public service contract not a profit-making endeavour. Any surplus earned will be reinvested in the event.

When the City of Edinburgh Council issued the tender for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay with the annual budget reduced by more than £300,000, doomsayers were quoted as saying that the event may need to be scaled down, perhaps to one day, losing elements such as the much-loved Torchlight Procession.

READ MORE: Anger over Edinburgh’s Hogmanay volunteer plans

However, we were determined that this would not be the case. And, as a successful business which produces events around the UK and internationally, we are able to balance commercial opportunities with flagship profile-raising events, such as Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

So even in this climate, we have been able to add new elements to the festival, including the family celebration of Bairns Afore, Val McDermid’s new work in Message from the Skies, and a revamped Torchlight Procession. We’ve also introduced an outreach and engagement programme – #ScotWord – with the young people of Scotland, a longer fireworks display at midnight with a specially commissioned soundtrack by Skye band Niteworks, and extra stages and activities across the Street Party arena to create a massive party full of surprises from 7pm to 1am, brought together by an award-winning creative team who have designed many Olympic and Commonwealth ceremonies.

A successful Edinburgh’s Hogmanay contributes £42m to the local economy – supporting local jobs and industry, bringing an estimated 150,000 visitors from all over the world and representing Edinburgh as the home of the best New Year party in the world.

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Images, film and social media go out around the world, encouraging tourists to visit and businesses to invest in Scotland: the impact of these benefits have not been measured.

We ourselves employ more than 1,700 paid members of staff for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, all of whom are paid the national living wage or more and with no zero-hour contracts. We have a robust security and stewarding plan which is fully supported by Police Scotland, Edinburgh council and all the emergency services and is entirely commensurate with the requirements of the event and current security climate.

To be totally clear, the event is fully staffed by people who are paid and have sought to join us on long-term or short-term contracts to work over Hogmanay.

The Ambassador Programme is entirely separate to the staffing requirements for the event and has been set up in consultation with volunteering bodies in Scotland in line with best practice guidance to allow those who choose to volunteer to develop and gain experience and skills, meet new friends and help us welcome the world to Edinburgh, and have fun of course – it’s a festival after all.

In the public conversation about Hogmanay, there is some confusion about the value of a volunteer scheme both to the event and to the people who choose to volunteer.

There are those who for many of their own reasons seek out opportunities to volunteer even when the opportunities of paid work are also available (which there currently still are). The motivations are very different with evidence suggesting that creating a path to paid employment is low down the reasons to volunteer.

Major events – whether charitable or commercial, like the UK City of Culture, the Olympic or Commonwealth Games, The Open or the Ryder Cup – have volunteer programmes which exist to offer an opportunity for people to get involved in something they are passionate about.

To belittle their motives by lumping them into a conversation about bad working practices is to disrespect their motivation and confuse real issues around getting people into paid and secure employment.

We have recruited a team of staff whose role is to look after people who sign up to support Edinburgh’s Hogmanay with their time and energy. Many of the people who have signed up have already volunteered at the Commonwealth Games or in the summer with Festivals Edinburgh and are looking for another experience at the heart of a major event in Scotland.

Others are looking for something different to do on their birthday!

There is a sorry climate of bashing success – whether it’s the success of commercially successful companies or the country’s major events which create so many benefits for Scotland.

Of course, businesses should be held to account and act responsibly but there are those in other positions of responsibility who should think twice before jumping to assumptions and wrongfully undermining the success of Scotland’s flagship occasions to the detriment of all.

Edinburgh – the home of Hogmanay – will welcome the world to celebrate the start of a new year and we want to do that in a bolder and more spectacular style than ever before.

Be there to see for yourself!