Call for Underbelly to be stripped of Edinburgh Hogmanay contract after 'bringing council into disrepute'

A senior Labour politician at City Chambers wants the city council to take back control of its Hogmanay and Christmas market events after labelling Underbelly as unfit to run the celebrations.

Saturday, 28th December 2019, 7:45 am
Labour Cllr Mandy Watt has called for Underbelly's contract to run the Hogmanay and Christmas market events to be binned.

A senior Labour councillor has called for Underbelly’s contract to run the Capital’s world-famous Hogmanay celebration and Christmas market and to be ripped up.

Underbelly came under fire last month after it was revealed the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens does not have planning permission to operate – while the company didn’t apply for permission for last year’s event, without Edinburgh City Council realising.

Underbelly has also been criticised for telling residents who live on streets closed for the Hogmanay street party, that they will need to wear wristbands to enter and leave their own homes and passes will be restricted to six per property without applying for special permission for more.

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Underbelly and the council insist no arrangements have changed from previous years over residents’ access during the Hogmanay street party and has apologised for any confusion caused – but a leading Labour councillor has accused the company of damaging the reputation of the authority.

Cllr Mandy Watt, who is also the council’s second in command for housing, homelessness and fair work, has slammed Underbelly on social media.

She said: “Underbelly has deliberately miscommunicated the situation by saying on their website that they are empowered to restrict numbers. Once again, Underbelly has brought the council into disrepute.

“They are not fit to have the contract and it should be brought back in-house. The council should consider breaking up the contract into manageable pieces and let local traders and communities run Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay.”

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Privacy campaigners have also blasted Underbelly’s Hogmanay restrictions. Applications made by residents for additional passes will be shared with Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue “for safety and licensing purposes”.

Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, said: “Edinburgh residents living in the arena should be beyond concerned about the fact that they must provide a private company with their details to access their own homes during this year’s Hogmanay New Year’s Eve event.

“While the concept of tracking who will be coming to the festival free of charge – for health and safety reasons – might seem legitimate, homeowners will want assurances that their data will be kept safe. The fact that each resident applying for permission to access their homes will also be vetted by police is a troubling precedent.

“This is an intrusive breach of privacy. Police have no business vetting who people invite to a party their own private property.”

Underbelly has apologised if any confusion was caused and stressed that any personal detials being shared wil be destroyed following the event.

An Underbelly spokesperson said: “Edinburgh’s Hogmanay has never and would never prevent residents and their guests from accessing their homes. The arena area needs to be secure which is why for many years, there has been a system in place for residents to get access passes which ensure them quick and easy access past security to their homes.

“The names and addresses residents supply to the group managing the event including Police Scotland is purely to verify that they live there so we can safely issue a pass and is securely destroyed immediately after the event. We are sorry if this has been misunderstood but we want to be very clear that our intention was never to prevent access. The weather for Hogmanay looks set to be fair and we’re looking forward to welcoming both locals and visitors to the greatest new year party in the world.”