Edinburgh Hogmanay boss warns of cut backs

Fireworks illuminate teh night sky on the stroke of midnight. Picture: Chris Watt

Fireworks illuminate teh night sky on the stroke of midnight. Picture: Chris Watt

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THE organiser of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations has warned it will be “impossible” to stage the event on its current scale if its budget is hit by council cutbacks.

Pete Irvine, the producer of the lucrative festivities since they were launched in 1993, says the scaling back of the event, which is currently staged over three days, will be inevitable.

And he warned any such moves could have a dramatic impact on the benefits the city gets from the festival.

Mr Irvine said recent research had found that last year’s celebrations generated £41 million, but pointed out the figure does not include the value of global media coverage.

The proposed cuts emerged on the same day Mr Irvine unveiled a major expansion of the street party. The Royal Mile will be included in the celebrations for the first time in 16 years.

Councillors have suggested cutting the current £1.3 million budget for the city’s winter festivals by £500,000 for each of the next four years. This is despite agreeing a new contract earlier this year with Mr Irvine’s company, Unique Events, and Underbelly, which produces the Christmas festival.

It is understood the bulk of the council’s funding supports the Hogmanay festival, in particular the 75,000-capacity street party, which involves a huge security and safety operation, as well as widespread road closures.

If councillors rubberstamp the proposal in December, the authority will be forced to re-tender the contract at a lower level, meaning any plans for next year’s event would have to be shelved.

Mr Irvine said: “A lot of the chat about this £500,000 is about Hogmanay. If that came out of the budget it would be very difficult for the event. We just couldn’t do the programme we have just announced with a cut of that size.

“As a festival, Hogmanay is simply not commercial on its own. People can see that the Christmas side of things is a commercial venture.

“When we started this event Edinburgh was shut for business over Hogmanay. Everything is open and everything is full now. Most other cities would kill for the profile Edinburgh gets around the world.”

A spokesman for Underbelly said: “Our focus is on delivering the biggest and best Christmas
yet and to create an even greater economic impact than last year, one that safeguards jobs in retail and hospitality as well as providing residents and visitors with the best place to enjoy Christmas in the world.”

The potential cut was revealed just months after a major report into the future of Edinburgh’s festivals warned the city faced slipping out of the premier division if funding levels could not be maintained in the face of a predicted “fiscal cliff.”

Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s festivals and events champion, said the proposed cut was a “very modest one” bearing in mind the authority was facing a deficit of £140m over the next four years.

He added: “This is nothing more than a proposal at the moment. It was decided that it should go forward into the budget proposals to see what the response is.

“I’ve made it very clear that if the winter festivals can be produced at a cheaper cost and a saving can be made then it should be reinvested in other festivals and events.”

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk