SAFETY fears over policing at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations have been raised amid a funding row that will see the number of officers patrolling the event slashed by a third.
It is understood 300 police officers were on duty last Hogmanay and around 100 fewer are expected to marshal the event this year.
The cut follows the introduction of a new Police Scotland policy aiming to charge “commercial events” up to £83 per hour per officer – a move Hogmanay organisers say would cost £250,000 for a police presence.
Promoters Unique Events and Underbelly have called for the new charges to be waived because Edinburgh’s Hogmanay brings £30 million to the national economy.
They agreed a fixed-price tender of £1.3m a year with the city council at the end of 2012 and say they are unable to absorb the additional costs.
Today, Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, police commander for Edinburgh, said this year’s event would be manned with “significantly fewer officers” but enough to ensure the safety of revellers.
And he rejected claims the cost to Hogmanay promoters would run to £250,000.
He said: “We have a responsibility for the proper stewardship of public funds. We operate in an environment where we have a responsibility to the communities across Edinburgh to deliver a policing service and make sure that taxpayers’ money is used appropriately to keep people safe.
“We operate in a financial climate where we’re making a lot of savings, and it’s no longer right or proper that policing services should be delivered free of charge to an event where people have to pay £20 to enter, where people are making money selling alcohol and other memorabilia.”
He added: “We would never police an event with too few officers.”
But critics have branded the decision to charge organisers “a disaster in the making”.
Former council leader Donald Anderson said charging for policing posed a “serious threat” to the celebrations and the 30,000 jobs they help support.
He said: “I well understand the difficulties faced by the police due to funding restrictions, but at face value the decision looks crazy, and is potentially deeply damaging to Edinburgh’s tourism industry.”
Any shortfall could be met by employing more stewards. Around 500 event stewards monitored crowds last year.
Former police officer Mike Crockart MP, who represents Edinburgh West, said all groups must find a solution.
“I find it very worrying that the decision of how many police officers are needed seems now to be based on how many the council can afford rather than how many are needed to keep us safe. If Edinburgh is to remain a ‘festival city’ that means funding them properly and ensuring they are safe. To do neither would be a disaster in the making.”
A spokesman for Unique Events said: “Discussions are ongoing between Unique Events, the council and police. These discussions will focus on maintaining Hogmanay’s impeccable safety record, which will continue this year and in years to come.”