SBC still in dark over parades law criteria

HOLYROOD mandarins are still being pressed to outline the criteria under which they would concede exemptions for events like common ridings when new legislation comes into force next year, writes Mark Entwistle.

Next April, the new rules will see organisers of local events such as common ridings, festivals and Armistice Day parades legally obliged to give 28 days' notice to the local authority of their event, which would then have to consult the local community on whether the particular event should go ahead.

Councillors at last week's meeting of Scottish Borders Council heard that not only had the Scottish Executive still failed to divulge exactly what the criteria are concerning exemptions, but that it would also not stump up any more cash to cover the extra administrative costs involved.

The new rules are primarily aimed at curbing the public disorder, violence and social division that have sometimes arisen at sectarian marches in the rest of Scotland.

SBC found out recently that, according to the Scottish Executive, the region does not have enough "notifiable" events to warrant additional funding to help cover extra administrative costs springing from the new rules. The irony is that the Borders has plenty of notifiable events, but under the old legislation the local authority had made it easier so that organisers of events like common ridings and festivals did not have to go through a complex notification process.

But the new law amends the Civic Government (Scotland) Act and removes that previous discretion to local authorities to exempt parades from requirement to notify, under which the former Borders Regional Council and SBC had resolved to exempt all common ridings, festivals and traditional events, as well as Armistice Day parades and many others.

Scottish ministers may make orders exempting other events or organisers, but only in "exceptional" cases if the council makes "a very strong case". SBC comments on the draft guidance said very strongly that the criteria for such exemptions should be spelled out in the guidance, rather than left vague.

And SBC legal chief Neville Dundas says the local authority still needs to told by the Scottish Executive exactly what criteria are being used in respect of exemptions. "How can you make a proper case without being told exactly what the criteria are," he said to TheSouthern this week.

A list of corrected numbers of events – including all those exempt under the existing legislation by BRC and SBC – were sent recently to the Scottish Executive, but whether this will be enough to persuade them that the council deserves more money remains to be seen.

Conservative councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre is furious over what she claims is the "failure" of First Minister Jack McConnell's government at Holyrood to respond to requests for clarification.

"A letter from the Scottish Executive's justice department was received on October 25 and circulated to all councillors. It ignored the plea for clarification and flatly refused more funding," she said.

"This proposal is a classic example of how the Labour/Liberal Scottish Executive places burden upon burden on local authorities.

"This legislation has been introduced to contain the sectarian marches in the west of Scotland, it has nothing to do with the Borders. The best we could hope for now is for them to exempt our Border events.

"The motion I proposed at the council today urged our officers to return to the Scottish Executive to find out exactly what criteria might allow SBC to seek exemptions for certain categories of event such as our historic common ridings and Armistice Day parades."