Former Edinburgh's Hogmanay boss '˜gutted' over contract

Edinburgh's Hogmanay founder Pete Irvine has accused the firm which is to take over the event of cashing in on the Capital's winter festivals and ruining the look of the city centre in recent years.

Pete Irvine has announced that he is stepping down as the head of Unique Events and the director of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival. Pic; Neil Hanna

The founder of Unique Events said he had been left “gutted” after London-based Fringe promotor, Underbelly, won control of the New Year event for the first time.

He said it was “inevitable” Hogmanay would now become more commercial under its new promoters due to the dwindling backing from the city council.

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Mr Irvine’s company, which created the first official Hogmanay celebrations with the city council in 1993, joined forces with Underbelly four years ago to secure a new £1.3 million contract to run the two winter festivals. But the council, which provides the bulk of public funding for the three-day festival, has instead awarded Underbelly a single contract worth just £800,000 to run the two events over the next three years. Unique responded with claims the council prioritised commercial interests over quality and public safety.

Mr Irvine insisted Unique Events had been the only “safe pair of hands” capable of running the Hogmanay festival, adding that it had been delivered to an “almost flawless standard” over the last 24 years.

Mr Irvine said Underbelly had already turned the city’s six-week Christmas festival into a “very commercial exercise” but had not ploughed any of its proceeds back into the three-day Hogmanay event, which costs around £1 million to stage.

He said the firm had been allowed to keep details of its “exceedingly lucrative” bar profits secret while the costs of the Hogmanay event had soared over the past four years.

Mr Irvine said the number of temporary bars brought into the Christmas festival by Underbelly over the last four years had been unsuitable for the Edinburgh World Heritage Site and suggested the quality of the Hogmanay festival would also decline in the face of the budget cuts.

Mr Irvine said: “I brought Underbelly on board to do Christmas. I wasn’t a big fan of it in the past. I didn’t have an appetite to totally commercialise it. I knew that they would and they showed what could be done with it, but we still don’t know what the profits from the retail side were. I think the bars were exceedingly lucrative. In an ideal world that should have subsidised Hogmanay, which has always been non profit-making.

“We realised fairly on in that four-year relationship that the whole thing with the bars, which were well run but certainly not cheap, had become a very commercial exercise. It depends on what you expect of a world heritage site. I expect more.

“I’ve had so many texts and emails. People are really shocked. People have views about Underbelly. They’ve been in the city for a long time and there a lot of comments about them. I had reservations about bringing them in. They were not as collaborative as I’d hoped.”

Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “Pete is an extraordinary guy. I have huge respect for him and the international event he has created. But both these festivals have been part-commercial and part-funded. We’ve had a huge amount of success in helping to improve Edinburgh’s Christmas over the last four years, bringing 3.4 million people to the city last year.”