Licence fees killing community fairs, organiser says

Crowds gather around the rides at Corstorphine Fair. Picture: Julie Bull
Crowds gather around the rides at Corstorphine Fair. Picture: Julie Bull
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COMMUNITY galas claim they are stuck on a merry-go-round of red tape and exorbitant licence fees which threatens their future.

Organisers of the Corstorphine Fair warned this year’s event would be the last if they had to pay the thousands of pounds currently being demanded.

And they said gala days across the city were at risk unless the recurring problems over licences for voluntary-run, non-profit events were sorted out.

Ewan Irvine of the Corstorphine Fair committee said the council had promised the system would be simplified for community galas, but instead it was getting more complicated and costly.

He said: “This year, I have reached the end of my tether with regard to the council licensing.

“A few weeks ago we were quoted £4128 for a public entertainment licence for our community fair which is a non-profit event and run by volunteers.

“After much negotiation we have this reduced to £400 but now we have been told we need a market operators licence which is £5 per commercial stall and also an amusement devices licence at £2133.

“Therefore, the cost initially could have been around £7000 in council licences for a community event run by volunteers. We simply will not survive with these types of fees.”

He said the committee met officials before every fair to discuss licences. “Never once was a market operators licence required or an amusement devices licence. Why now?”

Mr Irvine said there had been a similar problem in 2014, which was eventually resolved with a nominal £112 charge levied on several groups – Leith Festival Gala Day, Corstorphine Fair, Balerno Children’s Gala, Craigmillar Festival Fun Day and Clermiston and Drumbrae Children’s Gala Day.

But it was only an agreement for that year, so organisers are once again having to press the council to bring down its charges.

“It’s almost like a new licence suddenly crops up every time we have a gala,” said Mr Irvine. “They are pricing us out and killing off all the galas. If we have to pay the amount they are suggesting now, we will have to fold afterwards.”

Mary Moriarty, who runs the Leith Festival Gala Day, said licence fees were always a concern for event organisers.

“We’ve all had the same problems,” she said. “One year we were asked to pay £5000 for a public entertainment licence, which would just scupper us financially.”

She said she had organised this year’s licences without too much trouble. But she added: “They’ll change the rules for next year and we might be caught out again.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The council acknowledges the importance of events like community gala days to bringing local people together, and as such we work closely with organisers to enable them to go ahead safely, ensuring the public can enjoy participating.

“It is essential that such well-attended events are managed in terms of health and safety, and the council is liaising with Corstorphine Gala’s organisers to make sure the appropriate licences are applied for.

“There are significant discounts in place to support local groups to stage events such as these and we are currently in dialogue with the organisers in order to resolve any concerns around licences.”