CAN common ridings and local festivals in the Borders survive under the welter of bureaucratic requirements organisers must fulfil to comply with legislation driven by health and safety?
That is the key question which will be aired at a high-level summit next week involving senior police officers, Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker and representatives of 10 of the largest community events due to be staged this summer.
In Scottish terms, the Borders is the last bastion of exemptions from several key obligations with which major public events must statutorily comply, notably the requirement to have road closures sanctioned by a temporary traffic regulation order (TTRO).
And controversial legislation to control parades and processions, aimed principally to curb incidents of disorder at sectarian marches in central Scotland, has added to the red tape obligations of the volunteers on whom the future of the festivals depends.
That latest addition to the statute book requires organisers to get the consent of the local authority, in this case SBC, to hold an event. There is also a requirement to conduct risk assessments and submit operating plans as part of the process.
Last year, Councillor Parker, after an abortive attempt by his council to get the region’s equestrian showpieces exempted from the legislation, poured scorn on TTROs which, if borne by the region’s 22 established annual festivals involving road closures, would cost £17,000 to advertise, process and implement.
“Our common ridings have operated for decades without such needless bureaucracy,” he said. “The current arrangements for road closures, using signs and without recourse to statutory orders, has served us well.”
This week Mr Parker confirmed that his council would underwrite the cost of this year’s common ridings and festivals in the coming year.
He told us: “I am confident that any new council elected in May will continue this arrangement and do all we can to help organisers navigate through the morass of red tape and ensure that they do not have to bear the costs explicit in meeting all the new criteria.
“However, there is no doubt that many organisers, who are, after all, volunteers, will find the whole process daunting.
“The fact is we are all having to bow to the inevitable and our finger in the dyke can no longer contain the tide of legislation which must be complied with.”But a representative of the region’s largest festivals told us: “While we appreciate the efforts of the council to delay implementation of these measures and we appreciate the forbearance, up to now, of the police in enforcing legislation, there is a genuine fear we will struggle to get volunteers to come forward in the future because the whole thing is just too complicated.
“Even if the council is prepared to cover the cost of all this bureacracy, without volunteers, our festivals simply cannot survive.”
Another common riding secretary told us: “This has all been rumbling around in the background and, as far as I’m aware, our event is no further forward over what we have to do.”
Both admitted to trepidation after being invited to the meeting, brokered by Mr Parker, which will take place in the Burgh Chambers, Galashiels, next Thursday and feature a presentation by Borders divisional police commander Chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair.
Mr Sinclair was unavailable for comment this week, but his deputy, Superintendent Andrew Allan, told us: “The need for TTROs is long-established in other parts of Scotland and offers indemnity to local authorities and events organisers.
“It is no longer acceptable to have a few temporary signs and a barriers with a policeman directing traffic.
“The police have been in dialogue with organisers since last year so that they can maximise the benefits of TTROs so we hope the meeting will be a major step forward.
“I want to assure the public that the last thing the police want to do is stop centuries-old events which mean so much to the Borders.
“However, we must all work together to ensure that the way they are run addresses the paramount issue of safety for spectators and participants so they may continue for another 100 years.”
Mr Parker said that the common riding and local festival representatives would be contacted ahead of next week’s meeting to update them on the range of support measures that would be put in place by both council and police personnel.
TheSouthern understands that the arrangements for TTROs are in place for all festivals, except the Galashiels Braw Lads’ Gathering.
Mr Parker added: “I think communications between the various parties could have been better and this has added to the concerns of event organisers.
“However, I am confident everything will be in place for next week and that worries around the issue are capable of being eased.”