Rate hike of 700% threat­ens events

Or­gan­is­ers say 700% rate hike will be ‘fi­nal nail in cof­fin’

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - Front Page - BY JOANNE WARNOCK AND JOSHUA KING

WORLD-fa­mous events across the north-east could be can­celled if the coun­cil forces through a 700% in­crease in the cost of en­ter­tain­ment li­cences.

Aberdeen­shire Coun­cil wants to raise the fee from £90 to £750 to cover ad­min­is­tra­tion costs for largescale pub­lic events.

But or­gan­is­ers of such events – in­clud­ing Port­soy Boat Fes­ti­val and Bal­later

“Rise could be the nail in the cof­fin for some groups”

High­land Games – are fu­ri­ous, and de­scribed the pro­pos­als as a “kick in the teeth” to those who work hard to bring visi­tors from across the globe to the north-east.

All High­land games, out­door con­certs, gala days and fes­ti­vals – even those

run on a not-for-profit ba­sis – must ob­tain a pub­lic en­ter­tain­ment li­cence to en­sure events are safely man­aged.

The coun­cil in­sists its plans, which are cur­rently out to con­sul­ta­tion, re­flect the fact there has not been a fee in­crease in years.

But event or­gan­is­ers warned the rise could be the “nail in the cof­fin” for some groups.

Roger Goodyear, or­gan­iser of the Scot­tish Tra­di­tional Boat Fes­ti­val in Port­soy, said he was “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed” with the plans – and ad­mit­ted it may mean the team has to scale back.

Last year, the fes­ti­val at­tracted more than 18,000 visi­tors and £1mil­lion of busi­ness to the tiny fish­ing vil­lage but Mr Goodyear said even they, at best, “break even”.

“My jaw dropped when I heard,” he said. “The boat fes­ti­val does not make a profit – at very best it breaks even.”

“If we were a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion you could say there might be a case, but we're a char­ity. I'm not say­ing it will kill the fes­ti­val but we will have to cut some­thing whether it be the mu­sic or the kids at­trac­tions.”

Roger Bar­nett, chair­man of the Stone­haven High­land Games, added: “We don’t make any money, we are a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion. How­ever, there are other li­censees who do make profit, such as taxis and burger vans – the com­mon sense ap­proach to me, would be to charge them ex­tra.

“We set a stage for peo­ple com­ing into the town to spend money with all these other trades. All the money we make gets ploughed back into the fol­low­ing year – this will mean we can’t try and ex­pand as we had hoped.”

En­ter­tain­ment li­cence ap­pli­ca­tions are con­sulted on with the emer­gency ser­vices and the coun­cil's roads depart­ment, which is where the costs are in­curred.

But Mr Goodyear, a board mem­ber of Visit Aberdeen­shire, in­sisted the bulk of ad­min­is­tra­tion work for li­cence ap­pli­ca­tions is done by the or­gan­is­ers, not the coun­cil.

Scott Fraser, vice-chair­man of the Bal­later High­land Games de­scribed the pro­pos­als as a “mas­sive kick in the teeth” to small events.

Chris Stirk, who owns Ma Simp­son’s in Stone­haven and is be­hind many of the town’s shows, said the pro­pos­als may mean the end off the an­nual Party in the Park, which has raised thou­sands for char­ity.

“I se­ri­ously doubt if I’ll do it this year, purely down to this charge – I’m not work­ing my guts out to pay the coun­cil,” she said. “It will wipe out my char­ity do­na­tion com­pletely.”

Martin Danziger, or­gan­iser of the Aden-een Halloween and fire­works event in Mint­law, warned the change may lead to more un­li­censed and po­ten­tially dan­ger events, adding: “This in­crease in costs is an­other nail in the cof­fin for com­mu­nity events.”

How­ever, li­cens­ing com­mit­tee chair­man Richard Cowl­ing in­sisted it was nec­es­sary to con­sider the changes.

“Many li­cences are rel­a­tively straight for­ward to process but de­tailed ap­pli­ca­tions, such as those for large pub­lic events, in­volve a great deal of work and con­sul­ta­tion with dif­fer­ent part­ners,” he said.

“There has been no in­crease to the fees for many years and, in some cases, the cost of pro­cess­ing a li­cence is now more than four times as much as the fee charged.

“The pro­posed fees are closely based on the ac­tual cost for pro­cess­ing each type of li­cence but there may be flex­i­bil­ity around the pro­posed in­creases.

“With that in mind, it’s im­por­tant we gather the views of as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble be­fore the pro­pos­als are con­sid­ered.”

The con­sul­ta­tion will run un­til Jan­uary 23, and mem­bers of the pub­lic, com­mu­nity groups and busi­nesses are be­ing urged to have their say on changes to a va­ri­ety of the coun­cil’s civic li­cences.

Visit www.sur­vey­mon­key.co.uk/r/shire­li­cens­ing for more in­for­ma­tion.

“I doubt if I’ll do it this year, I’m not work­ing my guts out to pay the coun­cil”

Ev­ery year peo­ple love a good day out at an im­pres­sive ar­ray of out­door events across the north-east, but now they are un­der threat.

Fes­ti­vals, fairs and games are part of the cul­ture, but some or­gan­is­ers might be forced to scrap them due to pro­posed in­creases in coun­cil li­cence fees.

Pub­lic en­ter­tain­ment li­cences for larger “com­plex events” could rocket from £90 to £750 – or around 700%. A three-year li­cence for a mod­est event would go up from £90 to £375, with a one-off show more than dou­bling to £190.

Aberdeen­shire Coun­cil is re­view­ing its li­cence struc­ture, in­clud­ing taxi driv­ers pos­si­bly be­ing charged £100 in­stead of £40. Of­fi­cials ar­gue that they cur­rently lose money through pro­cess­ing in­di­vid­ual li­cences to the tune of al­most £16,000 a year. Coun­cils have to de­liver value for money, of course, and ap­pear to be in a per­pet­ual fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Al­most £16,000 a year hardly reg­is­ters on the radar for coun­cils turn­ing over mil­lions each year, but it all adds up. What does not add up is why such a blan­ket ap­proach is be­ing used when the coun­cil’s list of li­cence hold­ers is a mix of busi­nesses mak­ing profit and vol­un­teers who give up their own time to en­ter­tain the pub­lic – and merely wish to break even.

Surely, a dis­tinc­tion has to be made here, es­pe­cially as the pub­lic au­di­ences who would be hurt by these in­creased charges are al­ready bear­ing the brunt of other coun­cil cuts. Give us a break, they might say.

“The coun­cil list of li­cence hold­ers is a mix of busi­nesses mak­ing profit and vol­un­teers”

AT RISK: Or­gan­is­ers of var­i­ous events say they will have to scale back if the 700% rate hike goes ahead. Pho­to­graph: Colin Ren­nie

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