Edinburgh strip club ban: Sex workers union accuses council of 'empty promise' on strip club ban review

A sex workers union has accused Edinburgh council of making an ‘empty promise’ to review strip club ban in an attempt to block legal challenge - and vowed to ‘not back down’.

A dancer performs at Burke and Hare strip club in Edinburgh
A dancer performs at Burke and Hare strip club in Edinburgh

Councillors are set to review Edinburgh's nil cap policy amid warnings about the safety and livelihoods of women working in the capital’s four existing sexual entertainment (SEV) venues. Last week Lib Dem Councillor Lewis Younie successfully tabled a motion calling for councillors to agree that another report on the controversial ban be presented to the council's regulatory committee.

The council has seen a huge backlash since they voted for a sexual entertainment venue (SEV) 'nil-cap' in March which which is due to come into force in 2023, effectively establishing a blanket ban on the clubs. United Sex Workers (USW) union which is pursuing the judicial review of the ban says the pledge to revisit the decision is nothing more than a ‘PR exercise’ to try to block judicial review proceedings already set for early December.

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The union representing strippers across the UK joined forces with three existing Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) in the capital and raised £20k to cover legal costs of the judicial review against the city council. It was ruled by a Judge that members of USW will be able to take part in the hearing after the local authority attempted to stop the union from attending. The review date was set for December 1 and 2.

Now the Union has vowed to ‘not back down’ and is locked in a bitter stand-off with the council lawyers – who they claim still argue they do not have standing to bring human rights claims on behalf of its members working as dancers in the city’s four existing clubs. When asked for answers by the SNP on why the council sought to exclude the union from the Judicial Review at last week's meeting the council leader denied this and claimed it was inaccurate.

The decision to delay the date for the report to February – two months after judicial review - came amid concerns over the cost fighting a court challenge over the decision. But the union said the decision to accept an amendment by Labour delaying a review is ‘wreckless’ and has demanded answers from the council on how much they have spent on lawyers in the process.

Susan Rae, Greens councillor who has opposed the nil-cap from the start, said Edinburgh council's financial position has gone from "precarious" to "absolutely catastrophic" and urged a review should take place “as soon as possible” instead of going to Court. Responding to last week’s full council decision to review the nil cap in February the council legal team told the Union it rendered legal action as ‘premature’.

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It’s argued that the council has not yet refused any SEV licence applications and that they would not necessarily refuse if they did. Applications for new venues will still be accepted and determined on a case-by-case basis by members of the licensing board. But Union has slammed this as ‘nonsense’ and claims it would be a non-policy if they had no intention of enforcing it by denying venues licenses.

United Sex Workers Union representative Audrey said: “The decision to review is clearly nothing more than an empty promise, a PR exercise. The council has acted so disingenuously and not kept their promises on the issue so far. How can we trust them to honestly review and then reverse the policy? Clearly they are likely to not reverse the nil cap policy because they are still challenging our legal action. Unless they change the decision it still stands – and we intend to challenge it legally. We will not back down.

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"It’s galling that they pretend they care, that they claim to be doing this on behalf of dancers. Making out that they want to help them. But dancers have been trying to contact councillors for months and have had emails and calls ignored. We were not contacted by councillors or anyone about last week’s motion to review the policy either. They are clearly trying to block the judicial review, out manoeuvre us.

"It’s so stressful for dancers whose jobs hang in the balance but yet they have to hear about this on the news like everyone else, instead of being included and contacted directly by the council. This is not about the dancers or protecting their safety. The amendment accepted about ‘retraining’ dancers seems like another empty promise.

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"And if they were concerned about legal costs they’d surely review this sooner, not wait until after court date. It’s nothing short of wreckless. If the council genuinely cared then they would deal with it now and reverse the nil cap, instead of digging in their heels over a dangerous policy and forcing us to fight for our workers rights in Court.”

At the hearing in December USW will argue that the nil-cap is indirect gender discrimination against women, and that it interferes with the right to respect for private and family life under the European Convention of Human Rights.