Edinburgh council leader backs second bid to shut strip clubs despite ‘scandalous’ £208,000 legal costs

Taxpayers have already forked out for the council to defend the nil cap which was ruled ‘unlawful’.
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The Labour leader of Edinburgh council has backed a second bid to shut down the city’s strip clubs – despite the legal bill picked up by taxpayers for the last failed attempt rising above £200,000.

Councillor Cammy Day said his administration had not yet formally decided to pursue another ‘nil-cap’ on sexual entertainment venue (SEV) licences when the matter returns to the City Chambers, but he will urge members to support the controversial move.

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The previous decision to limit the number of adult clubs at zero – which would shut down the four which currently operate in the Capital – was found unlawful after performers and venues took the council to court earlier this year. Judge Lord Richardson said the Regulatory Committee had been “wrongly advised” the nil-cap “would not constitute a ban on SEVs”.

More than £200,000 has been spent on the 'nil cap'More than £200,000 has been spent on the 'nil cap'
More than £200,000 has been spent on the 'nil cap'

His ruling was not that the nil-cap itself was unlawful, but that there was a “realistic possibility” if councillors had been “properly advised” that “a different decision may have been taken”. It has now emerged that the total cost of defending the policy, revealed through a freedom of information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), was £208,358.

The eye-watering sum is split between £102,633 for external legal costs and £105,725 in expenses paid to three Edinburgh strip clubs and the United Sex Workers (USW) union who brought the judicial review. Commenting on the expense, Lib Dem councillor Lewis Younie said: “What a travesty that this is the road we travelled down. This council money would have been much better spent on delivering services for the residents of Edinburgh than spent in court.”

Ex-Labour city councillor Ross Mckenzie, who was suspended last year for defying his group’s support for the ban, slammed the case as a “scandalous waste of public money”. Cllr McKenzie, who now sits as an independent after he resigned from the administration in February, said the money was used defending a position “which does not have the majority support of the council”.

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Despite taxpayers having to fork out for the “erroneous” decision, the council leader said he will urge his group to support a second attempt to close down SEVs when councillors vote on what the appropriate number of venues should be again in December.

However, as the political make-up of the council has changed since the last vote to a minority of committee members in favour of the ban – three Labour and Conservative councillors against six SNP, Greens and Lib Dems – is it unlikely to pass this time around.

Councillor Day said his minority administration would finalise its formal position next week. “I’m firmly of the view that a modern progressive city like Edinburgh doesn’t need these type of venues,” the council leader said.

Responding to the final legal bill from the judicial review, he said he wished the city “didn’t have to spend that kind of money defending decisions,” however added: “I think it’s appropriate to defend our side.” Meanwhile in a recent newsletter, deputy leader Mandy Watt said she had been “working hard, alongside colleagues, to set the maximum cap on SEVs at zero, effectively banning them”.

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She said if the zero policy is retained clubs are banned she would work to “ensure that the council and the Scottish Government remain committed to helping current SEV workers transition towards more sustainable employment, rather than into other commercial sexual exploitation activities”.

Cllr Watt added SEVs “can be used to facilitate exploitation, abuse, and trafficking of vulnerable women”. However some in the industry have argued shutting venues down could make the situation worse by forcing performers to work in underground, unregulated environments which would be less safe for them.

Ahead of the court hearing in February one performer said: “I think it’s extremely important to be reminded that the nil-cap will push dozens of women into either unemployment, an unfit benefits system or underground, unsafe forms of sex work.”

Green city councillor Susan Rae said the argument that an SEV ban would reduce violence against women “isn’t actually backed up by any statistics”. She said: “The police have shown that closing the clubs actually increases violence. What will happen is if you close down the dance clubs all of that will go underground. It’ll be private houses, it’ll be unlicensed. It’ll just get out of hand.

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“They seem to be set on pursuing this course even though it seems to be a bottomless pitt of money for the council. It’s not a sensible policy in terms of the women, its not sensible in terms of economics.”

Cllr McKenzie said councillors who “rammed the policy through had already “wasted public money and put workers through needless stress and anxiety”. He added: “We also need clarity on who made the decision to defend the policy in court at this great expense. It makes no sense for the Council to spend any money defending a policy that a majority of its members don’t support, never mind 200 grand”.

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