Underbelly set to lose Edinburgh's Hogmanay and Christmas contracts

The founders of Edinburgh's official Hogmanay celebrations are set to win back the right to run the event from rival firm Underbelly.

Saturday, 11th June 2022, 2:24 pm
Updated Saturday, 11th June 2022, 6:56 pm
Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival has been stage since 1993. Picture: Liam Anderstrem
Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival has been stage since 1993. Picture: Liam Anderstrem

Unique Events has been named as the preferred bidder for a £4 million contract to take over the city's world-famous new year festivities.

The Edinburgh-based company, collaborated with the council to launch the Hogmanay event 29 years ago. Unique, which last worked on the festival in 2016 before losing the contract to Underbelly, joined forces with long-time Fringe promoters Assembly to mount its new bid.

Underbelly is also set to be ousted as operator of Edinburgh's Christmas festival under plans to put a Surrey-based company in charge of the event, which runs for up to six weeks.

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An open-air concert is usually staged in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh on Hogmanay. Picture: Roberto Ricciuti

Angels Event Experience Limited currently stages the annual Christmas market in Hyde Park in London - the biggest event of its kind in Europe.

Underbelly said it had decided against re-tendering for the Hogmanay festival, but was “disappointed” not to win the contract for the Christmas festival, which it has had since 2013.

A rethink of the Christmas and Hogmanay festivals is expected to see a greater spread of events around both the city centre and the city in general when they return this year.

A shake-up of the two events was ordered by the council following a wide-ranging survey which found significant support for them to continue, as long as they were overhauled.

Edinburgh's Christmas festival has been a huge draw for the city since it was instigated in the late 1990s. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The overhaul was aimed at reducing their environment impact, clamping down on drinking and overcrowding at pop-up markets, and doing more to support local businesses, producers and performers.

Unique directors Alan Thomson and Penny Dougherty said: “We’re very pleased to have been named, along with our partners Assembly Festival, as the successful bid to produce Edinburgh’s Hogmanay for the city, and now await approval of the decision at committee later this week, before entering into more detailed dialogue with the council.

“Edinburgh’s Hogmanay places our capital city on the world stage for new year celebrations, and as local event producers we relish the opportunity to once again work with the people of Edinburgh to re-invigorate the events programme and take the festival forward in the coming years.”

The council began a search for organisers for the events, estimated worth more than £158 million for the economy in recent years, in March.

Edinburgh's Christmas festival has transformed East Princes Street Gardens in recent years.

The proposed contract for Unique Events, which will run for an initial three years with possible extensions of another two, is worth £4,062,280.

The proposed contract for Angels Event Experience Limited, is expected to see the firm pay the council £5,473,500 for the right to run festive events and attractions.

However details of the planned programmes have not been disclosed ahead of a final decision on Thursday.

Council leader Cammy Day said: “Through our city-wide conversation with residents, businesses and stakeholders, it was clear there was overwhelming support for the continuation of Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, but with a revised format.

"Contract notices for both festivals were published seeking suitable tenders.

"Following this process, two preferred tenders were identified which have been recommended to councillors for their approval.

“If agreed, we’re looking forward to delivering great winter festivals for the people of Edinburgh and our visitors – very much in the spirit of their feedback received in our recent consultation.

"We want to continue to provide inclusive, high-quality festive celebrations, further enhance the city’s reputation and allow the benefits to be shared across our town centres and communities.”

A spokeswoman for Underbelly said: “We’re incredibly proud to have run Edinburgh’s Christmas for the last nine years since 2013 and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay since 2017, creating experiences for residents which have put Edinburgh on the global stage and which support the city’s economy.

“We are also proud to have invested over £2.2 million of profits from Edinburgh’s Christmas to improve Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and, despite challenges presented by the pandemic, we have continued to innovate, including producing the Fare Well drone film in 2021.

“Whilst we chose not to re-tender for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, we wish Unique the very best; and although we are disappointed not to produce Edinburgh’s Christmas, Angel Events Experience have been our German market stalls operator since 2013, and we also wish them well.

“We would like to thank all of our team, suppliers and the local businesses who have partnered with and supported us over the years. It’s an experience we will never forget.”