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The move to licence strip clubs in Edinburgh follows a Scottish Government paper on eradicating gender-based violence led to local authorities being given the power to impose a limit or outright ban on strip clubs in 2019.
According to a city council report there is broad support for the introduction of a licensing system for the city’s four sex entertainment venues (SEVs) – but it has led to a backlash from workers who say it will drive them ‘underground’ into dangerous working conditions.
In a report to the regulatory committee councillors were asked to set the cap on the number of clubs at four or zero. It’s also recommended no such venues should be allowed outside the city centre ward.
The report recommends that a licensing system is introduced “for the purpose of preventing crime and disorder and improving public safety.”
It follows a public consultation carried out earlier this year which found 44.5 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that there should be a limit on the number of SEVs, while 37 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that there should be no limit.
When asked what number any limit should be set at, 20 per cent said zero – while 40 per cent said there should be no limit.
Both Police Scotland and Licensing Standards Officers have told the council that the clubs are generally operating ‘without issues’.
Women's safety groups say stripping is harmful to women and promotes the objectification of their bodies.
Some performers and police are in favour of the move, arguing that it would ensure venues were better regulated and safer.
But United Sex Workers, a campaign run by trade union UVW, claims consensual sex work is ‘not unwanted sexual harassment’ and the conflation of the two puts sex workers at further risk of violence.
The group has written an open letter to councillors warning that an outright ban on clubs is discriminatory and will put women at risk of violence as the industry is driven underground.
A group of strippers said they dispute the view that stripping is a form of violence against women - a stance adopted in the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe paper – and have launched a campaign backed by the union to stop the zero cap.
Councillors delayed the decision to get legal advice amid fears that a ban on existing venues could lead to lawsuits from club owners. The council is due to conclude the process this month.
Councillor Mandy Watt believes the limit should be set at zero. The Labour councillor said: "I don’t consider this to be a moral issue, it’s about the safety of women and girls. There was a full consultation about the proposals and performers were included.
"It’s always difficult for people when the industry that they work in changes and they need to find alternative ways to make money. I’m confident that women who perform in the venues are talented enough to adapt their performances or find other work. If there’s help that they’d like towards getting started in a new career, I’d be keen to hear from them about what they’d need."