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In context: Licensing of travelling funfairs

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In context: Licensing of travelling funfairs

What’s it all about?

Who hasn’t enjoyed a spin on a waltzer, a faceful of candyfloss or won a goldfish in some throwing or shooting game in their time? According to the Showmen’s Guild, travelling fairs have operated in Scotland since Roman times, but they rose to prominence in Scottish cultural life in the Middle Ages. Charter fairs, which operated under a charter granted by the monarch, such as the Lammas Fair in St Andrews, Kirkcaldy Links Market and Glasgow Fair, all date to this period and continue to this day.

Some fairs, such as the Common Ridings in the Borders, are part of other local festivals and traditions, while others, such as the Links Market or the Rood Fair in Dumfries, are events in their own right. But the current licensing regime is proving challenging and SNP MSP Richard Lyle, who is a big advocate of funfairs, is putting forward a member’s bill, the Funfairs Licensing (Scotland) Bill, to simplify the rules.

The vast majority of Scotland’s citizens are supportive of fairgrounds and are unlikely to be aware of the reasons why the industry no longer has a presence during local holidays. The absence of a local fair may be perceived as part of a general decline, when in fact the current licensing regime has contributed significantly to a decline in the financial viability of the funfair itself - Showmen's Guild

What is the problem?

At the moment, funfairs in Scotland require a public entertainment licence from the local authority for each location in which they want to hold a fair. Applying for a licence is an unpredictable, slow and expensive process that varies greatly from one council area to another. Fees, which are only supposed to cover the cost of processing the application, can vary from under £100 to over £4,000 and part or all of the fee may be retained by the council even if the application is refused. Each council may set different local conditions and a council can then take up to three months to consider the application and up to six months to come to a decision.

If the application is refused, the organisers are out of pocket and those working in the fair unemployed because they are too late to apply for a licence to hold one somewhere else. Even if the application is successful, if there is a last-minute problem with the site, such as flooding, the organisers cannot move the funfair to an alternative site, even one close by, and would have to start the application process again from scratch. The Showmen’s Guild says these challenges and costs act as a “deterrent” and have contributed to a decline in funfairs.

What does the proposed bill aim to do?

The bill would exempt funfairs from public entertainment licensing covered by the 1982 Civic Government (Scotland) Act and instead create a “separate simple, fair and proportionate process in Scotland” for travelling fairs that is consistent across the country and recognises their particular needs.

The proposed new system would shorten the time local authorities are permitted to consider applications to 21 days, with applications to be made at least 28 days before the date of the fair; set fees nationally at £50, to be increased in line with inflation by Scottish Government ministers; require councils to grant the licence if criteria are met; and allow show operators to name an alternative site in their application that can be used as a back-up if there is a problem with the first site.

Wouldn’t reduced regulation be a danger to public health and safety?

No. Health and safety aspects of funfairs are regulated separately at a UK level under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by the Health and Safety Executive. Funfairs would still be required to have all the relevant safety documents such as public liability insurance, air weapons certificates, health and safety certificates for all the rides and an event safety plan. Councils would be able to attach certain conditions to the licence regarding dates and opening times of the funfair, the number of people allowed to attend at one time and environmental responsibilities.

How does it work in the rest of the UK?

Travelling fairs do not require a specific licence to operate in the rest of the UK. Funfairs are not categorised as regulated entertainment and so are not licensable activities under the Licensing Act 2003 in England and Wales. Funfairs on private land in England and Wales require the permission of the landowner, and if they wish to operate on council-owned land, they must notify the council in advance. Depending on what activities are planned, other licences such as a temporary event notice or street trading licence might be needed to cover the sale of food and alcohol. Byelaws may also regulate areas such as opening hours and management of litter and waste. Funfairs are not part of public entertainment legislation in Northern Ireland either and are controlled by district councils through byelaws on issues such as the hours of operation and safety.

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