Small events to be exempt from licensing

SCOTTISH Borders Council is set to head off a potential flurry of protests by agreeing later this month that organisers and host venues of minor entertainment events need not apply for special licences.

The implications of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2010 and its effect on existing Civic Government (Scotland) regulations, dating from 1982, were highlighted this month when it emerged that Highland Council was planning to charge a community group £153 to hold an Easter egg hunt.

In Edinburgh, where councillors have still to consider exemptions to the new law, a number of appropriately zany and attention-grabbing protests are planned for April 1, when local authorities can, at their discretion, demand that even free-to-enter events require a Public Entertainments licence.

Anxiety about what may happen in the Borders from that date and the prospect of an adverse effect on cultural life was voiced at the weekend by Sheila Sapkota, founder and musical director of Riddell Fiddles – a not-for-profit community group which teaches traditional music and is funded primarily from performances and busking.

“There is not a day, an evening or a weekend without a local cultural event of some kind, be it art exhibition, poetry reading, music sessions or local bands supporting a local festival,” said Ms Sapkota.

“But many of us involved in the arts are concerned that Scottish Government legislation intended to deal with large-scale events has resulted, due to lack of guidance and clarity, in the threat of licence fees for all venues where any form of artistic event is taking place, regardless of size, viability or age-group. It could see venues, which are already paying business rates, taking an unnecessary and unwelcome financial hit. Even a bookshop with a small art display, or an impromptu singalong could potentially be subject to stringent licence changes.

“Common sense dictates that licence fees for small-scale arts and community events are completely unjustified, so we really need to know what is going to happen in the Borders where it appears the council is keeping very quiet about what is proposed.”

In fact, the council was quick to respond to a request for clarification of the likely impact of the new legislation.

A report due to go to SBC’s Civic Government Licensing Committee (comprising one councillor from each of the 11 wards) tomorrow (Friday) is recommending that no new licences, beyond those which already require public entertainment permits, will be required in respect of entertainment which is offered free, on a non-commercial basis and for a period not exceeding six weeks.

“I can quite understand how this issue has attracted media attention as there had been much discontent at the potential impact,” admitted committee chairman Councillor Gavin Logan, who is also convener of the Scottish Borders Licensing Board.

“The good news for Borderers is that the report proposes that the council takes a step to ensure there is no adverse impact on our community and artistic groups.”

Anne Isles, SBC’s legal and licensing services manager, reminds the committee that the council, back in 1996, resolved that the following so-called “resolved” activities required public entertainment licences if an admission charge/money payment was involved: billiard, snooker and pool halls; circuses; concerts and concert halls; dance or mime performances; dance halls and discos; exhibitions; fireworks displays; funfairs, gymnasia; health clubs; ice rinks; laser displays; massage parlours; motor vehicle tracks or courses; paint ball games; pop concerts; raves; saunas; ten-pin bowling and indoor bowling centres; variety or musical shows; and video machine arcades.

Mrs Isles concedes that under the new legislation, the requirement for such activities to involve the payment of money had been removed.