Edinburgh strip club ban: Taxpayers forked out more than £100,000 legal costs for failed strip club ban

Union for strippers branded the amount spent by the council on the quashed bid ‘insane’.
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Edinburgh's council taxpayers have had to fork out more than £100,000 to pay the legal fees in the authority's failed bid to ban strip clubs.

Lawyers representing strippers and the clubs they work in faced down an attempt by the City of Edinburgh Council to set the number of sexual entertainment venues at zero - part of a nil-cap policy which would have effectively banned them - when they launched a judicial review against the policy.

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The council revealed it had so far paid £117,011 in legal fees for the review, which saw Lord Richardson rule that the policy was unlawful after a two-day hearing at the Court of Session. The figures, which were unveiled using freedom of information powers, also showed that six members of council staff had been involved in the judicial review. And the council said the amount to be paid by the authority to the opposing side had not yet been confirmed – so the full costs are not known.

Dancer at the Burke and HareDancer at the Burke and Hare
Dancer at the Burke and Hare

The battle to keep Edinburgh's four strip clubs open was launched in March 2022 when the city council's regulatory committee voted to set the appropriate level of sexual entertainment venues in the capital at zero. Strippers told councillors how they feared it would push women into prostitution and unsafe working conditions but it was approved in a knife-edge five to four vote.

After the decision, which prompted fury among workers and even saw an Edinburgh Fringe burlesque act become part of the campaign to save the venues, a fundraising drive was launched. Strip clubs mounted the legal challenge, supported by United Sex Workers Union, who warned the move would put jobs of more than 100 workers at risk. During the judicial review, the council had argued the nil-cap policy did not ban the clubs but set a level it deemed appropriate, and allowed a rebuttable presumption.

But Lord Richardson said the council would just look at the number of sexual entertainment venues in the area and then at the number it deemed appropriate, which was set at zero. "In the event that the first number is equal to or greater than the second number, then the ground will apply and, as a consequence, the local authority must refuse the application," he said in his ruling earlier this year.

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Lord Richardson said the council did not put forward "a good reason why the erroneous decision should not be quashed", and added that the regulatory committee was "clearly advised that making a nil determination would only create a rebuttable presumption which could ultimately result in closure of existing premises". He went on to rule: "I do consider that there is a realistic possibility that, properly advised, a different decision may have been taken. It seems to me that, were I to decide otherwise, I would be trespassing on the decision-making which had been entrusted (to the council)."

When asked about the amount so far spent by the council, Audrey, a spokesperson for USW union, said: “That’s an insane amount of money. And we don’t know the full cost yet.

"It is outrageous that Edinburgh City Council would spend 117k of public funds in order to force their own constituents into unemployment, financial precarity and increased danger, by attempting to close strippers’ access to safe workspaces. Especially as a portion of those funds were spent on attempting to deny those workers and their chosen representative, their trade union, access to the judicial review process.

"The council made the decision to spend this money not only during a cost of living crisis, but during a time of city wide strikes, as refuse workers demanded the council increase their pay to match local government workers across the rest of the U.K. Instead of wasting a colossal amount of public funds on a policy decision that never had a strong public mandate, nor any evidence to support it’s implementation, and has now been declared unlawful, the council could have focused on tackling the issues that lead many people into sex work in the first place; unaffordable childcare, the rental crisis, poverty.”

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A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: "It wouldn't be appropriate to comment on legal action. A report will go to the regulatory committee in May outlining a 12-week consultation plan regarding a review of the sexual entertainment venues policy. Following the consultation the responses will be collated and considered by councillors with the new licensing scheme set to be implemented by 31 December 2023."