COMMUNITY groups tasted victory this week after licence fees dubbed a “public entertainment tax” were removed.
A furore was caused earlier this year when changes in public entertainment license rules looked set to threaten local groups, such as gala day committees, who would be left too cash strapped to organise local events. Events that previously did not need to pay a PEL, such as civic events and fundraisers, were being considered by the council as needing a £79 licence.
In the case of a civic week, it was possible this charge could have been levied a number of times, covering various events, leaving local groups unable to stump up the cash to organise them.
But this week West Lothian Council decided that not-for-profit groups such as gala day committees and the organisers of Linlithgow’s Marches will no longer have to pay for public entertainment licences (PELs). The news came at the end of a comprehensive review into the controversial licences by the council.
Although a new list of activities involving certain forms of entertainment requiring a PEL has been drawn up, the council also agreed to remove fees for fundraising events organised by other non-profit voluntary and community groups in West Lothian.
Council leader Peter Johnston added: “The council recognises how important local community events are to West Lothian residents and that is why the council has agreed to remove the cost for public entertainment licences for non-for-profit groups and gala day committees.
“The council believe that this is a win/win situation for the council and local events organisers, as it will ensure events are properly licensed but are also free to the appropriate groups. Clearly this is positive news for many local groups who all go to a huge amount of effort each year to ensure their events take place for the benefit of their communities.”
The move was also welcomed by the council’s Labour Group who said it was the “right decision.”
John McKenzie, treasurer of Torphichen gala day committee, had called the PELs a “public entertainment tax” fearing for the future of Torphichen Gala Day and fundraisers.
He said: “I’m delighted common sense has at last prevailed - it has been a long hard road lobbying both West Lothian Council and the Scottish Government to do a U-turn.
“It’s like a huge weight has been lifted off the collective shoulders of Torphichen Children’s Gala Day and we can now get on with what we do best which is organising the best week in the village calendar.”
Julie Whitelaw, the council’s chief solicitor, said: “The purpose of licensing is to protect the public. Therefore, the council has agreed that it is vitally important that the resolution be updated to include additional types of activities. Public safety will always remain the council’s top priority when granting PELs.”
West Lothian Council will now write to all community councils and gala day committees advising them of the changes to the PELs.