With only days to go before April Foolery, I’ve had people asking me questions like this:
But why do we need to do this? Haven’t Edinburgh Council already said they won’t charge anyone?
I can see why people would think this. Headlines like “Victory for Scrap Arts Tax campaign” are lovely to see but don’t really help when it’s not the case. And believe me, it’s not – we’ve got a long way to go yet. Here are the facts as I understand them:
- Edinburgh Council have said they won’t charge, not that they won’t require Public Entertainment Licenses. This is an interim measure. Personally, I am not happy at the idea of applying for a license six weeks ahead of an event – it kills spontaneity, feeds bureaucracy and puts an easy mechanism for censorship in place. My personal feelings aside, the fact is that this is a short term measure. Sooner or later there will be a fee, because someone will have to process the license applications and unlike so many artists, they won’t be working for free. Even if this fee is “only” £50, that’s a lot of money to pay for the privilege of creating and sharing something artistic.
- The earliest the interim measure can be introduced is 28th of April, which is the next time the Regulatory Committee will meet to discuss it. This means that all small, free events held without a PEL between 1 and 28 April will be illegal. Yes, apparently the Council will “not be prioritising” our little events, but the fact remains that they will be illegal and if you organise an event you could be tried under the Criminal Justice Act and sentenced to anything up to a £20,000 fine (I’d love to see them try this – how about we pay our fines in “great exposure” and things that “will look great on a CV”?) or a six month jail term. Are you happy to risk that by trusting to a gentlemen’s agreement?
- According to Edinburgh Council, they have to enforce the new legislation because it would be illegal for them to do otherwise. Yet Glasgow is doing otherwise. So is Falkirk. So is Highland Council. So is Dundee. According to Holyrood, local councils are free to decide what they do with the legislation. If it’s legal for other local councils to make their own decisions, why is it different for Edinburgh? I would like to see this question answered.
- Most important of all, there is an election coming up. Call me cynical, but people who want your vote are sometimes inclined to tell you what you want to hear, because they’ll only have to worry about making it happen if they get re-elected. We need to hold the councillors who do get re-elected to their words, and we need to make sure that incoming councillors are fully aware of the need for small events to remain unlicensed.
If we really want to see victory for the Scrap the Arts Tax campaign, we need to keep applying pressure and making it clear to our councils and to Holyrood that at the very least we need the councils’ Resolutions to be amended so that the wording protects us – or at best, the legislation itself should be redrafted to say what it actually means without accidentally harming grassroots arts. April Foolery is part of that process of applying pressure and raising awareness, and it’s a means by which any artist or supporter of the arts who sees the importance of this issue can play their part. Filling in the questionnaire as part of the consultation period will also help.
Quite apart from the political considerations, though, April Foolery is a fantastic chance to celebrate our art forms! If you want to make a day of it, you can work your way round several different events, discover new things, meet new people, perform, exhibit, recite, whatever you like – it’s about enjoying the day, connecting with our communities and doing whatever creative things we usually do, unrepentantly unlicensed. No-one is obliged to take part in A Little April Foolery, but it’ll be all over the city centre – and indeed the country – if you want to.