Rate hike of 700% threatens events
Organisers say 700% rate hike will be ‘final nail in coffin’
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