Edinburgh councillors set to scrap sauna licences

The change would put mean any illegal activity taking place in saunas would be a matter for the police. Picture: TOBY WILLIAMS
The change would put mean any illegal activity taking place in saunas would be a matter for the police. Picture: TOBY WILLIAMS
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COUNCIL chiefs are set to scrap the need for saunas to apply for a licence just weeks after allowing more than half of the city’s establishments to continue trading.

The change is being proposed as city legal representatives believe that the current sauna policy is “no longer proving to be effective”.

It is also said the situation carries “reputational and financial risk” for the council after police raids on 13 venues in June resulted in 12 people being arrested in connection with brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings.

The removal of the requirement for saunas and massage parlours to hold a public entertainment licence would mean the venues would only be subjected to the usual public health and trading standards regulations. Any criminal or illegal activity taking place within the venues would be a matter for Police Scotland to address.

The council’s regulatory committee will be asked on Friday to launch a consultation on the change of rules.

A senior council insider said: “We are being pursued through the courts for granting licences and pursued through the courts for refusing licences. We’re in a catch-22 situation.”

A report by officials says the council has historically required a licence for these premises as a risk-reduction approach to minimise harm.

But it adds: “Recent police reports have indicated that this approach is no longer proving to be effective.

“If the current policy were to continue then further legal challenges are likely. This situation carries reputational and financial risk for the council and does not contribute to risk-reduction within these premises.”

All of the city’s sauna licences were up for renewal last month, but despite police objections to ten of the 13 saunas, councillors approved seven, stating that each business was reviewed on “its individual merits”.

Sex workers’ charity Scot-Pep criticised the proposed ending of the need for licences, saying it had been forced on the council by the police crackdown. The charity is concerned about the implications for the safety of sex workers in the city.

A spokesman said: “The system that has operated over several decades in Edinburgh has become a toxic issue for Edinburgh councillors, predominantly due to the actions of Police Scotland in recent months which saw several premises raided in June, in a manner which led women to describe their experiences as ‘violating’ and ‘humiliating’.

“The council proposals will mean these establishments fall under the enforcement responsibilities of Trading Standards and Public Health.

“It remains to be seen how the council’s stated intention to work with partner agencies to ensure the health, safety and good working conditions of the people working in the saunas will happen in practice.”

Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald urged the council to set up a small expert group including sex workers, the police and Scot-Pep, to look at the proposed move and the alternatives.

Police Scotland said they were aware of the proposed changes and would continue to monitor licensed venues.

david.oleary@edinburghnews.com