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Plea to put stop to licence fee plan for community events

By SPP Reporter

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Deirdre Mackay – “We need to defend the myriad of small scale, community-based charitable events.”
Deirdre Mackay – “We need to defend the myriad of small scale, community-based charitable events.”

EAST SUTHERLAND councillor Deirdre Mackay had an emergency meeting with Highland Council’s chief executive on Wednesday to try to amend the introduction of licensing fees for free and charitable events.

The Labour councillor told Alistair Dodds of the growing concern in the county about the potential effect of the new charges, which have been branded a "tax on creativity".

Members of Dornoch Community Council warned only last week that the licensing fees could make the popular Dornoch Hogmanay Party inviable.

Exhibitions, craft fairs, bonfire nights, illustrated talks and many other free-entry events will be hit by the extra costs. And in particular this year, anyone organising a Jubilee event will need to check they are covered.

Councillor Mackay said: "I’m extremely concerned about these proposals which seem to have been brought forward without any consultation or even discussion with elected members."

Up until now a Public Entertainment Licence (PEL) has been required only where members of the public pay, either to take part in, or to watch, entertainment.

However, from April 1st the "payment" section is being removed, which means that free events will no longer be exempt, but will require to have the licence, costing anything from £153 to £374 for a non-commercial event.

The changes are being made under the Criminal Justice and Licensing Scotland Act (2010) which comes into force on April 1st.

The reason for the shake-up is that licensing authorities are, under present legislation, unable to control free, large-scale public entertainments such as raves and major concerts.

However, there appears to be a deal of confusion over the implementation of the Act.

The Government maintains that it is up to the discretion of the individual local authority to decide what events require a Public Entertainments Licence. Highland Council’s Civic Government Working Group and Transport, Environmental and Community Services Committee have agreed that the Act means they are required to introduce a universal licence requirement.

They have taken the decision not to exempt small community events such as school fetes, senior citizens’ parties, galas or even lectures.

But Deirdre Mackay asked for the urgent meeting with chief executive Alistair Dodds to discuss the possibility of excluding small, charitable or community events.

She told the NT: "It is important that we step in to defend the myriad of small scale, community-based charitable events which take place throughout the year.

"Small fundraising community groups are the lifeblood of Sutherland and we should be doing all we can to support and empower them rather than hinder them with unnecessary layers of expensive bureaucracy.

"At a difficult economic time, small community events are needed more than ever and I will be campaigning to ensure that a stop is put to this needless waste of everyone’s time.

"I am seeking a meeting with the chief executive to ask that this process be suspended until such time as a proper review and consultation is undertaken on how all forms of free public entertainment are licensed in the Highlands.

"But this also underlines the need for national guidance from the Scottish Government."

After talking to Mr Dodds, she told the NT yesterday (Thursday): "He says he is looking at the implications of the amendment to the legislation with ‘a view to seeking a sensible resolution’. Hopefully that will be as soon as possible."

Councillor Mackay had been contacted about the issue by a number of concerned community groups during the last few weeks.

"They have warned they may not be able to continue to organise events under the new fee and bureaucracy structure," she said.

She cited, as an example, a recent visit to St Finnbarr’s Church, Dornoch, of two Russian accordionists. Donations given at the event went to a charity for the victims of Chernobyl.

The event, she claimed, could not have happened if a PEL had been required.

The SNP Highland Council Group has pledged in its manifesto for the upcoming local elections to reverse this decision.

? Licence fees currently cover a three-year period. If a group is holding an event in a public hall or venue which is already covered by a licence, then no extra fee will be charged. Otherwise organisers of indoor events which are not within a community/public hall, must pay £374; those within community/public halls will be charged £153 and non-commercial outdoor events will be subject to a £374 fee.


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