CHAMPIONSHIP and Open Shows, along with many other social events from music festivals to country shows are facing huge financial penalties under a Government plan to introduce what some commentators have dubbed ‘a tax on fun’.
Events such as the Great Yorkshire Show, the Chelsea Flower Show and the Prince of Wales's Prince's Trust pop concerts in Hyde Park would be subject to new taxes of up to £50,000 as part of the overhaul of the licensing system. Even smaller scale events, such as the Bingley Show - the UK's oldest one-day agricultural show that has played host to an Open Dog Show, could be subject to the swingeing tax burden.
The taxes are to be levied on any public entertainment event with more than 6,000 people in attendance that involves using temporary accommodation and serves alcohol or late-night refreshments.
The proposals, masterminded by Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, will also affect hundreds of outdoor pop and jazz concerts at stately homes and country estates. Literary and folk music festivals, garden shows, and the annual round of point-to-point meetings and agricultural shows could also have to pay.
Fundraising events for charities or for local schools and hospitals could also be liable for the new charges. The minimum tax is £5,000, and this would rise on a sliding scale depending on the attendance figure. The money raised through the levy would be payable to the local council to cover the costs of health and safety checks by officials at the event.
The Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) own annual Game Fair is under threat from the tax and the Association has vowed to lobby against the proposals, contained in a consultation paper. It is now seeking further clarification from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
The plan is that from February 7th local authorities must issue standard charges to cover their costs for inspections and health and safety checks on one-off and annual events on temporary sites.
At present, councils can charge for the administration of these events but many impose minimum costs or waive the fees, especially for charity functions, and Ms Jowell is anxious that there should be a national tariff. However, the scale of the tax has provoked outrage from heritage and tourist chiefs who raise income from these events to pay for the maintenance and running costs of many stately homes and important houses.
Such a punitive levy would threaten the viability of many historic homes and could reduce numbers of domestic and overseas visitors, particularly in rural areas, where the economy is fragile.
The future of key countryside events and the scores of farming and food shows could also be in jeopardy. The CLA Game Fair, for example, attracts nearly 140,000 people over three days and organisers are already worrying how they are going to raise the £25,000 tax that might be levied on next summer's event at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.
Charles Trotman, adviser on the rural economy at the CLA, said: "We usually pay about £300 for a game fair licence. Now we are going to be hit by many thousands and don't know how we can pay it. I also know of a beer festival to raise funds for a local school in Charlbury, Oxfordshire, that hopes to attract over 6,000 people and that might be hit."
The CLA's regional director, Dorothy Fairburn added: "These proposals would also hit point-to-point meetings, events vital to the viability of many historic homes open to the public such as outdoor music concerts, as well as many other country and charity fundraising events.
‘The agricultural show is a traditional rural community event attracting visitors from the cities too. Many shows are struggling to make financial ends meet and increasingly dependant on voluntary helpers and sponsorship. Some of the smaller shows have disappeared from the calendar altogether. These shows are a vital way of demonstrating the importance of farming and the rural economy to a wider audience as well as being the social highlight of the year for many who live in the countryside. We shall fight these potentially damaging proposals.’
The CLA has now joined the National Trust, the Historic Houses Association, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions and the Visitor Attractions Forum to lobby against the charges.
Dr Trotman was due to meet with officials the Department of Culture, Media and Sport twice this week regarding the proposals and how they would affect so many events
John Whittingdale, the Conservative Opposition Culture Spokesman, said he would raise the issue as a matter of urgency in the Commons, adding: ‘This is another Labour stealth tax. A vote for Labour at the general election will be a vote for a tax on fun.’
A DCMS spokesperson told OUR DOGS: ‘It is essential steps are taken to ensure public safety at large scale events. Under current proposals, which we have just finished consulting on, events with over 6,000 people would have to pay an additional fee.
‘Everyone who has ever been to a large pop festival, for example, would expect huge temporary stages and arenas to have been checked by experts. We want to make sure Licensing Authorities have sufficient funding to carry out their checks without having to cut corners and compromise safety.
‘Under current laws all major events already have to have a licence, often at a cost of many thousands of pounds, which is set by the local authority. We are changing this because there is currently a 600 per cent variation in what local authorities charge. The new system will, for many, be more affordable, and there is nothing to stop local authorities subsidising events if they choose to do so.
‘We have consulted with those who have an interest in this issue and we are taking all their views into account before reaching a final conclusion. Licensing Minister Richard Caborn will be meeting representatives next week.
‘It should also be stressed only licensable activities need to be licensed. For example, most outdoor sports, flower shows and much of what goes on at an agricultural show are not licensable. While bars and public entertainment at such events may require a licence, it would seem unlikely that this would trigger the extra fee. Officials have offered to meet representatives of the CLA to help them better understand the proposals.’
A spokesman for the Kennel Club told OUR DOGS: "This initiative does cause the Kennel Club some concern for large outdoor canine events that we licence and we note that various organisations such as the CLA, the National Trust and the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions are lobbying the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for clarification on various points contained in the consultation paper.
"The Kennel Club was not included in this consultation process, but we shall certainly monitor the situation, and lobby if necessary, if we feel that this matter will affect the sport and hobby of canine events. We shall be discussing this matter internally as quickly as possible and pending the outcome of our discussions, will notify Our Dogs of our proposed course of action."