The ban on strip clubs in Edinburgh has raised eyebrows for its nonsensical nature, as the Labour leader of the city council throws his weight behind a second attempt to close down these establishments. What makes this move even more confounding is the staggering legal bill taxpayers were slapped with for the failed first attempt, a hefty £200,000.
Councillor Cammy Day has indicated his administration's intention to once again push for a 'nil-cap' on sexual entertainment venue (SEV) licenses, but the decision is yet to be formalized. Despite this, he is gearing up to advocate for this controversial measure.
The previous decision to impose a zero limit on adult clubs, effectively shutting down the four currently operating in the city, was deemed unlawful when performers and venues challenged it in court. Judge Lord Richardson pointed out that the Regulatory Committee had been "wrongly advised" that the nil-cap wouldn't constitute a ban on SEVs.
It's important to note that the judge's ruling didn't declare the nil-cap itself as unlawful, but rather indicated a "realistic possibility" that a different decision might have been taken had councillors been "properly advised." Shockingly, it has come to light that the cost of defending this policy exceeded £200,000, a revelation made through a freedom of information request.
This considerable sum is split between £102,633 for external legal costs and £105,725 in expenses paid to three Edinburgh strip clubs and the United Sex Workers (USW) union, who were responsible for bringing the judicial review. In response to this, Lib Dem councillor Lewis Younie lamented, "What a travesty that this is the road we traveled down. This council money could have been put to better use in delivering services for Edinburgh's residents rather than being spent in court."
Former Labour city councillor Ross Mckenzie, who defied his group's support for the ban and was subsequently suspended, lambasted the case as a "scandalous waste of public money." He pointed out that this money was used to defend a position that "does not have the majority support of the council."
Despite taxpayers having to foot the bill for this "erroneous" decision, the council leader is intent on urging his group to support a second attempt to close down SEVs in December. However, given the change in the council's political makeup, with a minority of committee members now in favor of the ban, it is unlikely to pass this time.
Councillor Day maintains that his minority administration will finalize its formal position soon. He stated, "I’m firmly of the view that a modern progressive city like Edinburgh doesn’t need these types of venues."
While some argue that the ban on SEVs is intended to protect vulnerable women, others contend that it might have unintended consequences. Some in the industry argue that shutting down these venues could drive performers to work in underground, unregulated environments that may be less safe for them.
One performer expressed concern ahead of the court hearing, stating, "I think it’s extremely important to be reminded that the nil-cap will push dozens of women into either unemployment, an unfit benefits system, or underground, unsafe forms of sex work."
Green city councillor Susan Rae also challenged the argument that an SEV ban would reduce violence against women, noting that it isn't supported by statistics. She argued that the police have shown that closing the clubs could actually increase violence and drive the industry underground.
In light of the ongoing debate and the considerable cost incurred, it's clear that the ban on strip clubs in Edinburgh is indeed a perplexing and costly endeavor that warrants reconsideration.