Fears for future of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival over funding crisis

Fears are growing for the future of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival after the Scottish Government cut its direct financial support.

No public funding has been confirmed for a revival this year for the event, which has recently been valued at more than £40 million to the economy.

Industry insiders say the event is being put at risk by a failure to nail down funding that has under-pinned the staging of the festival for nearly 30 years.

Business leaders have warned a full-scale return of the Hogmanay festival is “vital” to help with the post-pandemic recovery of the city centre.

Edinburgh has staged a Hogmanay festival since 1993-4. Picture: Roberto Ricciuti

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    The festival has been backed by more than half a million pounds in government funding in recent years, as well as up to £813,000 a year from the city council.

    Delays in appointing new organisers have been blamed for the event being dropped from the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo programme for this year.

    The Government said the timescale for appointing new organisers meant it was "unfeasible” to expect any projects to be delivered this year.

    The Hogmanay festival, which has previously received up to £200,000 year to help showcase Scottish artists and performers, has instead been allocated just £30,000 for the development of Expo work for future years.

    Princes Street is usually thronged with revellers for Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: David Cheskin

    The festival has not been allocated anything from other funding pools run by the two government agencies which have also backed the event in recent years.

    Public funding has made up nearly a third of the income generated to pay for the festival, which has had a recent budget of around £4.5m.

    The council has put up to £813,000 into the Hogmanay festival since 2017, when producers Underbelly won the contract, with income generated from its running of the Christmas festival also bolstering the new year budget.

    However, councillors announced a rethink of the two winter festivals in November after sharply divided opinions emerged in independent research, which revealed concerns about the environmental impact of the festivities, the cost of tickets and complaints they were designed more for tourists than local residents.

    Edinburgh usually stages an open-air concert in Princes Street Gardens on Hogmanay. Picture: Roberto Ricciuti/Edinburgh's Hogmanay

    Despite this, a total of 86 per cent of the 8,600 respondents to the poll expressed their support for official Hogmanay celebrations to continue, with fireworks displays, live music and light installations the most popular elements. Mass gatherings, such as the Hogmanay street party and the opening night torchlight procession, were found to be the least popular.

    Under the shake-up for the winter festivals, the council plans to appoint a producer for a Christmas festival, while an individual or organisation will be appointed to take charge of an overall “winter festival programme”.

    However, the council has yet to publish any further details of how the events will be run in future or what funding has been ringfenced.

    The Scottish Government has confirmed funding for Edinburgh’s other biggest festivals from its Expo Fund, which was instigated in 2017 to help showcase Scottish artists, performers and companies.

    The Government has approved £550,000 for the Fringe, £140,000 for the Scottish Storytelling Festival, £110,000 each for for international, book and film festivals, £120,000 for the jazz and blues festival, and £110,000 for the film festival and £140,000 for the art festival from the overall £2m Expo pot.

    One senior events industry figure said: "At a time when the events, tourism and hospitality sector is reliant on major festivals to help reignite recovery in 2022, it is imperative that flagship events such as Hogmanay are supported by the Scottish Government and the local authority with sufficient investment to provide much-needed economic recovery.

    “Without the previous level of support from the Expo fund for Hogmanay this year, it can only mean a reduction in days for the festival and a diminished cultural programme.”

    A Government spokeswoman said: “The tender for Hogmanay has not been awarded yet, which means there was no Expo application to consider in the latest round of funding.

    “Given the timescales involved, it was considered unfeasible to expect delivery of any Expo project in 2022/23.

    “However, the decision was taken to provide £30,000 to allow the development of the creative elements of a future Expo bid.

    “The expectation is that Hogmanay will be eligible to apply for support in 2023/24, subject to availability of funds.”

    Creative Scotland confirmed the Hogmanay festival had previously been allocated three-year funding of £​533,000 from a Platforms for Creative Excellence Programme in 2018.

    Government agency EventScotland said it had provided up to £263,000 a year for the Hogmanay festival in recent years.

    A spokeswoman said: “We await the outcome of the council’s tendering process. However, we would welcome an application that builds on Edinburgh’s reputation as one of the world’s leading new year celebrations from whoever is contracted to deliver the event.”

    The council confirmed it had yet to allocate any funding for Hogmanay this year, but insisted it would be clear when it goes out to tender.

    Council leader Adam McVey said: “We had an excellent response to our city-wide conversation with residents, businesses and stakeholders on the future of Edinburgh’s winter festivals.

    “It was encouraging that while so many want to see Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations continue, we also had clear views on changes needed to make the most of these events for the benefit of residents and businesses.

    “For 2022/23, the process has begun to identify a partner to deliver Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

    "We’ll soon be tendering this, taking full account of the feedback from residents and businesses."

    Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “Hogmanay is a flagship event for our city, revered and renowned around the world.

    “It’s vital that as we recover from the pandemic we maintain this standing with a celebration on the scale of previous years.

    "The event brings millions of pounds into our economy and is especially important to our hospitality industry and their employees and supply chains, which have all been hit hard over the last couple of years.”