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Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party to be ‘privatised’

COUNCIL chiefs are considering “privatising” Scotland’s largest Hogmanay street party in a bid to stem losses of more than £1 million over the last three years.

The future of the capital’s new year party will hinge on the success of this year’s celebrations, already cut back from five days to four, under a broad-ranging review by Edinburgh City Council.

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But The Herald understands this year’s celebrations are likely to be the last under the current funding arrangements, which have seen the taxpayer shouldering a considerable bill for the event.

Greater private backing and involvement in organising events would mean removing at least some of the liability from the council, but it is thought the scale and nature of future celebrations may need to change radically for that to work.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay brings substantial knock-on benefits of millions of tourist pounds to the economy, but leaves the council tax-payer with a huge cash headache to deal with after the party.

Last year the shortfall was £240,000. The previous year the figure was £500,000, and it lost £300,000 the year before that.

While the strategy review in the new year is still due to be guided by this year’s events, it is expected to show that the current levels of subsidy in the current economic climate are unsustainable for the Hogmanay street party, according to one source.

The winter festival is the only one in the capital managed directly by the council and for which it bears financial and operational responsibility.

The council said it remains committed to Hogmanay celebrations in the city but it is understood the event is unlikely to remain in its current funding format.

This year, 80,000 people are expected. At its peak in 1995/96 the street party attracted 350,000.

The council source said: “The new year celebrations are an asset to the city and to the wider economy. But the council tax-payer should not have to foot the bill. Scale may also be a factor in future.”

It is hoped that raising the ticket administration price to £15 this year would help stem another heavy loss, but there is no guarantee. Last year 75,000 people turned up, and 4000 tickets at the cheaper price of £10 remained unsold.

One document to councillors said: “Each year it (Edinburgh’s Hogmanay) generates in excess of £30m of economic impact for the city. This does not, however, directly relieve the requirement of council funding.

“The costs of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay are considerable and most relate to the street party element.”

A separate interim report said losses of the same scale as last year could not be absorbed.

Steve Cardownie, deputy council leader, said: “Edinburgh’s winter festivals are an integral part of the Scottish festival calendar and provide a great boost to the economy. We are confident that this year’s events will be a huge success and the information we glean from monitoring the changes we’ve implemented for 2010/11 will help us in drafting the review.”

The council made street party passes available from July for the first time and it altered the programme “in response to customer research” so Scottish entertainment will be the focus of events on January 1.

Jenny Dawe, council leader, said: “At a time when money is so tight, it is understandable that questions are asked about continued support for campaigns and events.

“However, I remain totally committed to the concept of supporting our tourist, creative, transport and retail industries with major campaigns and events, while recognising that all partners need to operate as efficiently as possible.”

The council cut its annual input this year by £100,000 as part of wider budget cuts of £90m, while the remainder will be made up from the Scottish Government’s Expo Fund, earmarked money for such events, which provided £200,000 this year, as well as Event Scotland and income from ticket sales.

In 2008 the council doubled the administration costs of the street party passes to £10 and last year the capacity was reduced from 100,000 to 80,000.

The contract currently held by Unique Events to produce the events for Hogmanay in Edinburgh runs out next year.

Pete Irvine’s company, which has staged the £1.6m show since 1993, is hunting for a new sponsorship and development manager to “play a pivotal role in developing Edinburgh’s Hogmanay”.

Sir Bob Geldof’s company was among previous competitors for the tender to manage production of the event.

This year headlining acts on Hogmanay include Scottish band Biffy Clyro, while KT Tunstall takes centre stage on New Year’s Day.

 

Seventeen years of partying

- A few special events held in Edinburgh in December 1992 for the EU summit in the city were expanded on the following year to create the first street party in 1993.

- Last year 88% of revellers came from outwith Edinburgh and the Lothians.

- Income from the street party itself last year was £502,000.

- Nine out of 10 hotels in Edinbugh are fully booked over New Year.

- Previous acts to play at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations include Blondie, Scissor Sisters and Madness.

- In 2006, with winds gusting up to 70mph, the party was cancelled. The Pet Shop Boys were due to headline the event. Bad weather also forced cancellation in 2003.

- Edinburgh’s Hogmanay had print coverage in more than 300 publications in 40 countries and was watched on TV by hundreds of millions of people.

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