Edinburgh council leaders were kept in the dark over plans to recruit more than 300 volunteers to work for free at the capital’s money-spinning Hogmanay celebrations.
Senior figures were only made aware of the mass recruitment drive for a team of “Hogmanay Ambassadors” after it was underway.
The authority has vowed to closely monitor the scheme – which has been branded “mass exploitation” and “absolutely outrageous” by politicians – before, during and after the forthcoming festival.
The initiative, introduced by new organisers of the festivities this year, will see a 150-strong army of volunteers working on both 30 December and Hogmanay. However they will get only meal vouchers and travel expenses in return.
The initiative was not part of the winning tender for the £800,000 annual contract won by Fringe promoters Underbelly to run the event.
The publicity campaign for the Hogmanay Ambassadors programme was only launched by producers Underbelly last Thursday. The firm has insisted its volunteers will not be carrying out any roles previously performed by professional stewards.
Council leader Adam McVey said it was only made aware “fairly recently” of the plans to bring in hundreds of volunteers to work at the events.
He added: “It does seem like a big number of volunteers. I’m not sure what they envisage these people doing. What Underbelly are saying is these are not stewards who will be responsible for the event.
“They are saying they will be additional ambassadors for what is going on. I’m reserving judgement at the moment.
“It will be important to make sure these are not core positions being filled on a voluntary basis. If that turns out to be true I’ll be quite comfortable with it. If it turns out not to be the case and these are positions which should have been paid, but were not, then we’ll need to have another conversation with Underbelly.”
Underbelly refused to say whether the number of paid-for stewards working at the main events will be lower than 12 months ago.
A spokeswoman said: “We aren’t able to give you the breakdown of security and stewarding at events for security reasons, but a huge amount of effort has gone into the appropriate deployment of security and stewarding and Police Scotland have been involved in at all times.”
Underbelly director Charlie Wood added: “There was a pilot launched by Festivals Edinburgh in the summer to get more volunteers involved in all the festivals.
“They will be doing exactly the same as the ones we have been appealing for on our website since July.”