Edinburgh councillor blasts decision to give out free tickets for Edinburgh's Hogmanay despite 'crisis' warnings

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It's claimed handing out freebies to councillors is ‘inappropriate’.

A decision to give out free tickets to councillors for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations despite funding crisis warnings has sparked anger in the city.

The sold-out event was branded a success after 50,000 revellers celebrated the New Year at the world-famous street party and Concert in the Gardens. But one councillor has said giving out free tickets is ‘inappropriate’ after organisers were ‘out with the begging bowl’ just before Christmas.

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Councillor Ross McKenzie said: "I don't think its appropriate for Unique Assembly to be handing out freebies to councillors, especially during a week in which they were holding out the begging bowl for more public funding. Unique claim they are making a loss from Hogmanany, but how much profit are they making out of Christmas?

Street party 2023Street party 2023
Street party 2023

“Given the ongoing controversy of the award of the Christmas contract, I'm sure Unique Assembly will want to be completely transparent about which councillors have benefited from gifts and hospitality."

Organisers of the Hogmanay festival warned that the event has reached a "crisis point" due to cuts in public funding and rising costs. The two firms who currently produce the event claim an additional half a million pounds is needed to secure its future. Unique Events and Assembly Festival, who are in the midst of a joint three-year contract with the city council, have suggested major free elements of the Hogmanay festival are under threat without a rethink of how it's paid for.

It comes amid ongoing concern for the Hogmanay and Christmas events, following the collapse of the Christmas festival in 2022. In October last year, a senior council official claimed slashed council funding for Hogmanay was "kept secret" by the council over fears about a "negative story" on festival cuts.

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An email sent by the senior official suggested "roughly £150,000" of the Hogmanay annual £813,000 budget was reallocated to make savings elsewhere in the council last year - but the change was not reflected in the contract put out to tender.

Bosses behind the consortium said the current budget for Hogmanay is in excess of £4m, but the available funding at the moment, which comes to just over £1m, has dropped by around 50 per cent compared to ten years ago. They warned significant funding is needed “just to get to survival mode, let alone development and expansion”.

Unique Assembly chiefs said they hope to get the event back on its feet and re-establish it, but stressed that they are supporting it heavily financially. According to their last accounts to March 2023 Unique Events Ltd recorded a cumulative profit of £366,000.

The previous Edinburgh Hogmanay festival, which ran for three days, was valued at more than £48 million for the city's economy. But it’s claimed the Hogmanay event has run at a loss since the council cut its winter festivals budget in 2017.

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A UniqueAssembly spokesperson said: "Unique Assembly are incredibly proud to have delivered a hugely successful winter events programme for the city over recent months, providing world-class event experiences for both locals and visitors, ensuring the capital maintains its status as a premium winter destination and delivering a vital economic boost to local businesses. Both Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay present an accessible programme of events and attractions, with over 6,000 tickets distributed to local charities and community groups, and tens of thousands of visitors attending free events throughout the city centre. Edinburgh's Hogmanay is a City of Edinburgh Council owned event, and as principal funders have access to a limited number of tickets for events which CEC allocate internally."

Depute Council Leader, Councillor Mandy Watt said: “As a council event, it’s been longstanding practise to give out a number of tickets for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay to each political group.”

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