Fears for free shows as Edinburgh stands firm in arts licences row

Proposals would mean arts events, including exhibitions, would require licences. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Proposals would mean arts events, including exhibitions, would require licences. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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COUNCIL leaders in Edinburgh are refusing to drop plans to introduce new regulations for free arts events – despite fears of a devastating impact on grassroots events in the city.

Charges for controversial new entertainment licences are expected to be waived by councillors next week, but a permit will still be needed for every free event in the city.

Arts industry leaders have been left furious after being told Edinburgh is unlikely to follow Glasgow’s lead and refuse to impose the strict new licensing regime approved by the Scottish Parliament two years ago.

Councillors say they do not want to introduce the charges, but have been left in a difficult position by the legal advice from officials, who have warned licences will be needed for all events after 1 April.

The move, due to be discussed by councillors on Friday, will potentially affect all free arts events in the capital and has raised fears that the amount of red tape and bureaucracy involved will put organisers off staging them.

It could take months for the council to work out which free events should be exempt from having to secure the new licence.

Under Edinburgh City Council’s current regulations the vast majority of arts events which charge fees need a licence.

They include magic shows, cabaret nights, poetry recitals, book readings, live music sessions and art exhibitions, all of which will now be affected. It is understood council officials have warned against the legal implications of waiving the new licences, despite fears they will “destroy” the grassroots arts scene in the city.

Licensing chairman Rob Munn said: “The council’s legal opinion is that we should introduce these licences.

“We don’t want to do that for all free arts events, but we do not exempt them under our current rules.

“We are trying to find a way through this.”

A nominal fee of £50 to cover the costs of running the new system has been ruled out by councillors.

However, a compromise of not charging for the new licences for events in the next few months has still been met with dismay by industry figures in the city.

Morvern Cunningham, organiser of the Leith Late event, due to be held in June, said: “The prospect of these licences being introduced is really frightening.

“I can’t see how the council and the police are going to be able to enforce this, but what they are saying is that anyone who doesn’t get a licence will be breaking the law.

“I don’t see how they can’t put exemptions in place next week.

“The council is saying this is all an unintended consequence of the new legislation, but why are they then going ahead with it?”

Sorcha Carey, director of the Edinburgh Art Festival, added: “We are particularly concerned to ensure that small, free, temporary visual arts events, an important and vital part of the city’s cultural offering as well as our festival programme, are not inadvertently penalised through this new legislation.”

New rules

Entertainment licences would be required for the following one-off events, even if entry is free:

Storytelling workshop

Poetry recital

Book reading

Live music performance

Clubbing event

Art exhibition

Acrobatics display

Magic show

Cabaret night

Exempted events are events in church halls, school halls and indoor or outdoor sports premises, but only if conducted by the organisation which runs the venue.