Edinburgh strip club ban: Council refuses to reveal how much taxpayers' money spent on legal battle
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Edinburgh City Council has said it will not disclose how much cash has been spent on defending the ‘nil cap’ policy which will see four strip venues in the capital close in April 2023 – forcing more than 100 workers out of jobs. It comes after United Sex Workers took their fight against the ban to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
United Sex Workers told the court on 1 December that the policy would see dancers employed at the city's four venues struggle to pay their rents, push them into debt, and break up with their partners because they have to move city to find work. Lord Richardson was told by lawyers representing the council that it has the right to set the cap at zero at the two-day hearing.
Since the ban was voted for in March, it has sparked a backlash and councillors agreed to review it amid warnings about the plight of women working in the venues and concerns over the cost fighting a court challenge over the decision. But local councillors have accused the council of wasting public money – as sources have claimed the cost of legal counsel so far is at least £80,000.
Freedom of information request
Officials insist the council can’t come clean over the costs of the legal battle because it would be “showing its hand at an early stage of legal action”. It acknowledged public interest in the case but said it had to protect the commercial interests of the Council's instructed solicitors, as releasing the costs would clue in competitor firms about their fees.
It comes after the date for a review of the ban was pushed to February, two months after the Judicial review which would see the council incur further legal bills. United Sex Workers (USW) union has slammed the council for keeping the costs of legal action secret, which they claim is an attempt to ‘stop workers having a chance to protect their jobs’,
The council opposed the application to the court of session and argued that sex workers should be excluded from court. Their lawyers also argued that the union was potentially liable for the council’s legal costs. But a Judge ruled against their bid in September allowing the union to take part. It was concluded that issues of “general public interest” were raised by the court action and that members of the USW had a clear interest in the outcome of the proceedings because they wanted to continue in their current work.
It was also ruled that the union will not be liable for their legal expenses – a court order was issued preventing the union from being liable for legal fees incurred by the council. But the council said they could still lodge a future motion to claim expenses against other petitioners, including one of the city’s strip clubs, if they are successful in defending the ban.
‘A waste of time and money’
Cllr Susan Rae, Edinburgh Greens Spokesperson on Licencing & Regulatory said ‘I’m disappointed that the Council has chosen not to disclose this information and have contacted the Service Director of Legal Services seeking an explanation. At a time when we face enormous financial difficulties faced by both the citizens of Edinburgh and its services, it is in the public interest to know how much was invested in maintaining an unpopular and punitive policy.”
Councillor Ross McKenzie said: "Regardless of where you stand on the substantive issue, it's a fact that the council has spent this money defending a position that does not have the support of a majority of elected members. I believe that the 'nil cap' will be overturned, the four clubs will remain open and we'll look back on this episode as a waste of time and money, and the cause of unnecessary stress to the affected workers".
Councillors had the option of setting the cap on sexual entertainment venues at four, keeping all the clubs in the city open, but this was rejected. The decision, made by the city's regulatory committee on March 31, was a knife-edge five to four vote in favour of setting the cap at zero. Lord Richardson said his decision following the court hearing in December was likely to come in the new year.