Scotland: Edinburgh saunas to lose public entertainment licences

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Following the recent emergence of a police crackdown in Edinburgh of condoms in public saunas, the council is now considering pulling licenses from such services altogether, saying current policy is “no longer proving to be effective.”

Last month, the Gay Police Association, Scotland’s Equality Network and Stonewall Scotland all raised significant concerns over proposals to ban “items of a sexual nature” from public saunas.

The local authority has now announced that it would be a “reputational and financial risk” to continue keeping saunas on their Public Entertainment Resolution, and will be considering a change in policy on Friday.

New measures would mean that, from February, although all saunas would continue to operate, they would also be subjected to the same public health and trading standards regulations of any other business.

The Scotsman reports that council sources have denied unlicensed saunas would drive workers on to the streets.

Senior council director Mark Turley wrote in a report to councillors: “The Council has historically required a license for these premises as a risk reduction approach to minimise harm. Recent police reports have indicated that this approach is no longer proving to be effective.

“The current policy is operating in a contentious climate which has arisen due to multiple legal challenges to both the granting and refusal of a number of licences.

“If the current policy were to continue, then further legal challenges are likely. This situation carries reputational and financial risk for the council and does not contribute to risk reduction within these premises.”

He added: “The impact of this proposal would be that premises would continue to operate and would be subject to general enforcement activity through trading standard and public health powers … any criminal or illegal activity would be a matter for Police Scotland to address.”

Scot-Pep, a charity which campaigns for the rights of sex workers, has criticised the move, saying it was forced on the council as a direct result of police crackdowns.

A group spokesman said: “The system that has operated over several decades in Edinburgh has become a toxic issue for Edinburgh councillors, predominantly due to the actions of Police Scotland in recent months which saw several premises raided in June, in a manner which led women to describe their experiences as ‘violating’ and ‘humiliating’.

“The council proposals will mean these establishments fall under the enforcement responsibilities of Trading Standards and Public Health. It remains to be seen how the Council’s stated intention to work with partner agencies to ensure the health, safety and good working conditions of the people working in the saunas will happen in practice.”

Police Scotland said it would continue to maximise public safety and harm reduction in all premises.

Superintendent Matt Richards said: “Any criminal activity detected within these venues will be reported to the appropriate authorities.”

Last month, the Church of Scotland criticised police proposals to curb the distribution of condoms in saunas, saying “it would be folly to ignore the risks of unprotected sex”.