EDINBURGH’S bin men may soon be sporting adverts on their overalls as part of a radical new move to raise extra cash for services.
City chiefs are investigating whether they can sell advertising on everything from staff uniforms and vehicles to bridges and roundabouts to help plug the city’s financial black hole.
Details of the proposal are still being worked out but it is thought it could bring hundreds of thousands of pounds into the city coffers, with staff such as bin men, environmental wardens and even park rangers potentially involved.
Edinburgh is facing a £10.8 million shortfall in the budget for 2013-14, and due to the Scottish Government council tax freeze council chiefs are restricted in the ways they can raise extra funds.
As the News revealed last week, city transport leader Lesley Hinds said the local authority was considering charging Hibs and Hearts for traffic diversions during matches.
Advertising on uniforms, vehicles and buildings is likely to be more controversial, with heritage groups and brand experts today warning of the potential pitfalls. A commercial version of the “I Love Leith” ads on lampposts is also being explored.
Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance leader, who oversees the delivery of the budget, insisted that no final decision had been taken and that greater use of adverts was just one of a range of options being explored.
He said: “We are exploring all avenues available to us to increase income generation to allow the council to continue to provide quality services to people in Edinburgh.”
The idea of advertising on uniforms is not entirely new as Edinburgh’s 180 lollipop men and women were sponsored by Murray Volvo until earlier this year, with the three-year deal involving the local car dealer paying around £20,000 in exchange for having its brand printed on their high-visibility jackets, pictured right.
Other local authorities including Glasgow, meanwhile, have successfully sold advertising on bridges and roundabouts.
Installing adverts on bridges such as those in Gorgie and Roseburn would alone bring in an extra £350,000 every year, according to the draft budget published last week, and in turn help to prevent cuts in key services.
However, advertising and branding experts suggested there were a raft of problems which would stem from the move – not least the public being confused as to which organisation staff worked for.
Susanna Freedman, director of the Edinburgh-based brand and communications agency Emperor, which has clients including Stagecoach and Cunard, suggested council chiefs also risked weakening their existing image as a public service providers.
She said: “If you are an organisation working with a partner to provide a service, for example, it may well make sense to have dual branding on uniforms.
“But if it’s purely for revenue purposes and the second brand is just a commercial business who is advertising with you, that may well lead to confusion.”
Advertising on public buildings and street furniture is also widespread, but with varying levels of success. In May 2010, Brighton and Hove City Council offered litter and dog waste bins to advertisers. This year, it confirmed it had failed to receive any takers.
Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association civic trust, also warned the use of adverts on buildings and bridges could make Edinburgh look “cheap”.
She said: “We will be looking at all of these proposals because this could well be detrimental to civic amenity. We have already highlighted issues of inappropriately positioned ads in the past, like the floor to ceiling ones at the Omni Centre, and they have been removed because they breach the council’s guidelines.”
Ms Williams also warned against the introduction of adverts on roundabouts, despite their use elsewhere.
She said: “We don’t see the point of putting advertisements on roundabouts because it could distract the driver.
“The potential of this has the potential to make the city very messy.
“Many of the city council buildings, for example, are within the Unesco World Heritage site and it’s hard to imagine that adverts on such a site would be acceptable.
“Also, if you are selling all this space across the city how do control it?
“Edinburgh is not for sale and for the sake of a few bob I’m not sure it’s worth it.”
Members of the public are being urged to give their views on the draft budget through a series of events over the next two months.
The council’s finance committee is expected to hear evidence from groups such as academics, think tanks, charities, and unions.
In the draft budget item on the new ads, officials accept that “care must be taken to ensure advert is appropriate and does not cause undue distraction to drivers” from bridge or building ads. It goes on to outline potential pitfalls of introducing the scheme, including “not gaining approval with respect to road safety”.
A final decision will be made when the budget is discussed by councillors on February 7.