Volunteering in Edinburgh should not have a dark underbelly.


I’m absolutely delighted that Unite and Underbelly were able to broker a deal which means our Capital’s Hogmanay celebrations can go ahead without anyone being accused of exploiting workers (report, 27/12/17).

I think we’ve all been in a position where we move into a new home and have a particular dislike for the décor. Being a new Councillor is like that. There are lots of decisions that have been made in the past, which either have not stood the test of time or perhaps were never a good idea. Indeed, the tram debacle has taught all Councillors the value of doing their homework and asking Officers difficult questions.

Interestingly, the two decisions from the previous administration which have been of concern to me in recent weeks both originate from the now defunct “Culture and Sport Committee”. This SNP convened committee left both a threat to our libraries and the controversy surrounding the use of volunteers at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Celebration.

As we all know, Edinburgh is a fantastic city. I take huge pride in welcoming friends, family and academic partners to it. Its natural setting, architecture, history, culture and citizens are what draw people here. The Council has a duty, however, to ensure those that do visit are safe, respectful and want to come back. That’s why our city needs its civic festive celebrations to be professionally organised.

Indeed, the success of these events in recent years are why we had to take the controversy surrounding the use of “volunteers” at this year’s celebration seriously. As a Labour Councillor and trade unionist, I don’t want to see any worker exploited. I don’t want to see people being duped in to being “volunteers” when in fact they are basically unpaid workers.

That’s why I agree with Cllr Donald Wilson, Labour’s Culture Tsar, when he says that where volunteering is used legitimately it can be hugely positive. Like him, I want it to be used to help people get back into work, engender a sense of community and help build self-esteem. That’s why we all have to support his efforts to review how the Council and its contractors use volunteers.

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