A JOB club for sauna workers is being launched – to help women find work away from the vice industry. Women will also be given financial advice under the radical proposal, which is designed to cater for an expected flood of women away from the industy.
It is not known how much funding is in place for the plan, which will see support services for sex workers reviewed to make sure they can deal with the expected large amount of sex workers leaving saunas if licences are scrapped.
The commitment was made by council leader Andrew Burns, with the authority’s regulatory committee expected to today approve a consultation period over whether to abandon the existing sauna rules.
Cllr Burns said: “Times have moved on and there has been a sea change in the [sex] industry.”
The proposed change comes with the city’s legal advisers saying the existing sauna policy is “no longer proving to be effective”.
Cllr Burns predicted that Edinburgh’s tolerant approach to saunas would not change overnight if the council did scrap licences. However, campaigners have claimed such a move would lead to an immediate crackdown on venues by Police Scotland, which they said was only being held back by the existing system.
Police have already been accused of reverting to a Glasgow-style approach to saunas. Raids on 13 outlets in June led to a dozen people being arrested in connection with brothel-keeping and living off immoral earnings.
Cllr Burns said the city needed to make sure support services were fully equipped to deal with any potential mass departure of sex workers from the industry. Job assistance, financial advice and availability of women’s support groups are expected to be looked at under the review.
A meeting was held last month at the City Chambers to discuss Edinburgh’s saunas, with Cllr Burns quizzing two of Police Scotland’s most senior figures – Chief Constable Sir Stephen House and Edinburgh’s divisional commander Mark Williams.
Chief Superintendent Williams, of Police Scotland, said: “Sir Stephen and I were very clear during this meeting, as we have been throughout, that licensing matters are the responsibility of the council.
“Police Scotland’s role is to detect and thoroughly investigate any evidence of criminality and take any necessary enforcement action to ensure public safety. We will continue to work with council colleagues and other agencies to protect vulnerable victims.”
Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald praised Cllr Burns for committing to the support services review, but said: “There is a temptation and certainly the impression has been created that the police will be heavy-handed. I hope now that they’re going to pull back a bit.”