Sex sauna licensing system stripped by council

There are fears the formal system has failed to protect sex workers. Picture: Toby Williams

There are fears the formal system has failed to protect sex workers. Picture: Toby Williams

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CITY chiefs have quickly ratified plans to wash their hands of sauna regulation, the Evening News can reveal.

The decades-old system for licensing premises is set to be scrapped on Monday amid fears the formal system has failed to protect sex workers.

But the move is sure to leave the council open to claims it has abandoned vulnerable women and raises the spectre of further police action.

A new body comprising Police Scotland, NHS Lothian, sex charities and the city council is now meeting to develop a fresh approach to the Capital’s sex industry, which has been tolerated for the past 20 years.

The radical change in policy follows a series of police raids last March which saw six premises – almost half of Edinburgh’s 13 saunas – have their licences suspended.

Many were later allowed to remain open after lodging appeals, but the council immediately suggested the days of licensing were over.

Critics suggested the unexpected swoop signalled a move away from the Capital’s traditionally more tolerant attitude towards the sex industry, something repeatedly denied by Police Scotland.

Today, the News can reveal the council will ditch the system, which insiders claim is “no longer working”.

Councillor Gavin Barrie, convener of the regulatory committee, said it was apparent “activity beyond the terms of the licence” was taking place in some saunas.

He said: “The proposal to be considered at next week’s committee states that the amount of evidence we have now received means it is no longer appropriate to consider saunas and massage premises for a public entertainment licence.

“If the committee decides not to license these premises in future, the council will still take the safety and wellbeing of those working in saunas and massage premises extremely seriously and our health committee will scrutinise the harm reduction work under way across the various agencies working in partnership.”

A new “harm reduction” framework to regulate the entire sex-for-sale industry is now being developed and likely to adopt a “holistic approach”.

Since research began last November, police have increased intelligence gathering around sex work in the city and identified “extensive activity” through the internet of flats and escort agencies as well as saunas and street walkers.

NHS Lothian and charities have reported a growing demand for an escape route for sex workers enquiring about welfare benefits and job opportunities outside of the industry.

City health leader Councillor Ricky Henderson said: “Partner agencies in frontline services, led by NHS Lothian, have developed a set of multi-agency actions to promote a harm-reduction approach and to keep people safe.

“Some of these actions are already in train, others are newly proposed. In this way, we build on existing good work and avoid duplication.

“We have also received evidence that demand for services to help provide routes out of sex work and access to welfare benefits is growing.

“It was agreed last week that a progress report will be submitted in early 2015 so we can monitor developments.”

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: “Whatever the outcome, police will work alongside our relevant partner agencies to provide the necessary support to those affected as part of our commitment to harm reduction and protecting vulnerable individuals.”