Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



Mr Donohoe

  220. At the beginning of this inquiry, Chairman, I was remiss in not declaring an interest, of sorts, in that, some years ago, I assisted showmen and was given, I think, the honorary membership. I never got any parchment, or anything, to show me that that had actually happened, but I now understand that these things are done in that way. And, in the present tetchy environment that Members of Parliament are in, I think it is right that I should, in actual fact, make that point at this stage. Can I just take you back, George, to the point that you made in terms of the costs that you are involved in, and ask you, how much did it cost you to hire the ground for that Millennium show?
  (Mr Irvin) I think it cost us, all told, round about £260,000 altogether.

  221. And that was to the local authorities, was it?
  (Mr Irvin) No. We did not actually pay rental, we had to pick up a lot of invoices, to do with Vincent Park's[1] police, I think we had a bill of about £60,000-odd, for parks police, so it is just one thing put onto us. You have got to remember, these are a lot of costs when no-one knew if this was going to be successful on the night at all; in fact, we did not sign the contract until 22 December. If it had carried on the way it was, we were just going to walk away from it; actually, it got just ridiculous, in the end, the to'ing and fro'ing, and there were too many chiefs in there, at the particular time, too many Departments we seemed to be dealing with. We have learned a lot of lessons from that; hopefully, next year, we will be dealing directly with the Royal Parks and not going through so many Government Departments on this.

  222. And you were not bothered by these people who sell the beefburgers in the parks then?
  (Mr Irvin) Yes, we were, but we actually cured it on the evening ourselves, but that is another story, and I do not think we can divulge why we did that, but we did not have the problems with that.

  223. Can I just take you to the point that was made earlier, in terms of the local people and the objections that you get from local people, and touch upon a point that you have just made, in terms of the relationship and the payment that you make to police. Is it the normal practice that you are charged for a police presence at your showgrounds?
  (Mr Irvin) No, and we do not agree with this, because we class fairs as community events, we do not agree with paying police. The different thing there was that the costs of the Royal Park had to be met on the night by somebody; these police were Royal Parks police, which had already been booked at the time, so someone had to pay that bill actually on the evening. That is a bit of a unique situation. We have had three or four venues now in London where actually the local authorities are trying to insist that we have police there; the police are saying, "If you need police to be there, we are insisting that you pay us," the same as you would inside a football ground. I said, "Well, this is not on, because it is not an enclosed event, this is a community event." We have lobbied local councillors very hard, and at the moment we have got a stand-off situation where we have refused to pay anything of this kind.

  224. So how would you see these problems being overcome, in terms of the relationship that you have with the public that are around your fairs; and Mr Scarrott mentioned, earlier on, the fact that he has been getting more and more into the countryside?
  (Mr Irvin) This is happening with all prestige sites. A fair should take place in the centre of the town, where it used to take place; we should not be pushed outside and outside. It is local people who want to attend these events, local people want to walk to these events. We talked about East London, just in places like this, there is a lot of racial tension in different places, in inner London, unfortunately, to what there is outside London, and people want to feel very safe, and people should feel safe. They are paying their taxes now, and the rest of it; what are they getting for their taxes if we have got to pay for police, on top of this.

  225. But there is a perception, is there not, in some people's minds, that actually fairs attract people like a magnet towards them, and it is the wrong sorts that come to them? What are you doing, specifically, to overcome that, as a problem; are you doing anything?
  (Mr Smith) Let us talk about Mile End, which is actually in the papers you have got, which we think was an excellent practice, because it is a traditional, inner-city fair. In Mile End, we have been operating there for many years, so we have the security and the knowledge that our funfair will be there, and we went to meet local tenants' associations, which at the beginning was very difficult, because they did not stand up and give us a round of applause when we did it, they had a very negative view of the funfair, because, unfortunately, the people who attended the tenants' association meetings were not the same people whose families actually were coming to the fair. But what we did round Mile End was, we established, from the tenants' associations, people who would come and work on the fair with us, not actually work physically but come and look at the planning of the fair, so they understood. People think you just drive onto a site, the first lorry there unloads and that is where their ride goes; it is not like that, it is planned, you actually consider noise nuisance. So they came down, saw how we planned, saw how we stewarded, got the police involved in discussions before the fair, in terms of stewarding and layouts, and the fair started to operate. We usually run special sessions for children with disabilities, where they come down during the afternoon, when the fair is shut, for free sessions; we actually started running, in Tower Hamlets, sessions for elderly people, pensioners, to come down during the day when the fair was closed, because, that way, they actually met our staff. Because, if there is a problem, whether it is noise, whether it is with youths, after the fair, gathering in a corner just making a bit of noise, the only way you can actually stop that is if the people who are suffering from the problem contact us at the time and then it can be dealt with; it is no point in them writing to the council three weeks later, and then by the time it comes round the fair is coming back again and it is too late, it has got to be dealt with at the time. And that happened. The pensioners groups coming down to Mile End Park have got to be 70 or 80 people, and they were the worst-controlled group we have ever had. They get on the site at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, they get their cups of tea, they get their candy floss, and they sit on the dodgems, and they will not go home, they have a wonderful time. But what it meant was, they actually got to know us, so if they had a problem they would come to us. And I think it was two years ago, it is in the report, there were major problems at Mile End, as George said, there were problems between a couple of gangs in the area, nothing to do with the fair, the police, we had had all the pre-planning meetings, it just happened that the two gangs, from different ends of the Borough, decided to meet at the funfair site, and it was serious, there was no question, it was very serious, serious crime, there were fights going on. We never thought we would be back there, because of those problems, it was quite an unusual reaction, it was the local residents who actually said, "No, that fair is coming back; we are not going to have our entertainment dictated by thugs and criminals;" it was the local residents' pressure. We were astonished, absolutely astonished, but they wanted the fair back and the fair went back; and that was because they know us.

  226. How do you overcome that particular problem then; in specific terms, how did you overcome that problem?
  (Mr Smith) The problem with the gangs; the following year, we relocated the site of the fair 200 yards down the road to a different piece of land, with a different layout, it had back lighting from the sports stadium there, so it was much better lit, there was a wide roadway in. So we just moved it, in consultation with residents and the police, 200 yards down; we changed the layout of the fair, because in the past we had had the fair so that the funfair site was enclosed, if you like, so the noise was thrown in the middle, which meant that everybody was, not trapped but that was the design that everyone had agreed was appropriate, to a different design, which was much more open, so that, in fact, gangs could not gather, they could be easily seen, and they did not come back. And we also worked with the police. And, going on to the police, something we learned from The Mall last year, we have stewards and the police, when the police have a presence. On The Mall, a simple thing, I was in charge of the stewarding, and a police officer and myself spent the entire four days arm in arm, so I was in touch with our stewards, they were in touch with the police, so if there a slight problem both sides knew straightaway; we had never done that before, but it is so obvious, and we will certainly be doing that at funfairs in the future.

Mrs Dunwoody

  227. I hope your wife understood this?
  (Mr Smith) I am not sure the police officer did; he thought he was going to sit in the control room.

Mr Donohoe

  228. Mr Smith, is that something that you have fed into the Guild, in order that that can then be repeated in other parts of the country, and that local authorities have been notified so that they can do likewise; it is to overcome the problem that is there and universal, is it not, that you try to address? You are in a Guild, and so, therefore, are you feeding the Guild with that information?
  (Mr Smith) The answer to that is, we certainly will after this meeting, yes. You are absolutely right, that is exactly what we should do.

  229. And you have not done it?
  (Mr Smith) We have not done it yet, no.

  230. I see. What are the differences between the lifestyles of the ordinary people and the travelling showperson?
  (Mr Irvin) In what way do you mean the difference in lifestyles?

  231. In terms of what your report itself says, by virtue of the fact that you are on the road most of the summer, that is an obvious difference; are there any other differences?
  (Mr Irvin) I do not think so.
  (Ms Peak) It is just a different business.
  (Mr Irvin) Perhaps we have got more practical, harder things, in some ways, a balanced education for the children is much harder because we are moving around at times; a lot of people now are trying to get their children to the same schools, or have travelling schools actually attend the fairs as well.

  232. Is that more the case now than it was before, that the children will stay on a permanent site and go to school?
  (Mr Irvin) I think it is becoming slightly more that way.
  (Ms Peak) We do have distance learning packs, and they do their school work now; because everything is high tech, even with showpeople, they do their school work by fax, so when they go back into mainstream school they are on a par with the other children there.

  233. There are no other differences that you see that distinguish yourselves from the general public?
  (Mr Irvin) No, not really; we do not want there to be.

  234. If I turn the question round the other way then, do you think the general public have a view that you are different from them?
  (Mr Irvin) What you are coming to is, yes, you know very well that in certain areas there is a certain amount of prejudice, in different things. I think our society has suffered from racial abuse for the last century, there is no doubt about that, and I think a lot of that is to do with education, to a lot of people, in different ways.

  235. So what are you doing to overcome that problem, if anything?
  (Mr Irvin) That problem, I think, really and truly, has got to be overcome by the Guild, and, unfortunately, the majority of members do not want actually to put money into PR to overcome that.

  236. Do you think they should?
  (Mr Irvin) Yes, I do.
  (Ms Peak) Yes.

  237. So you would be quite happy to put your hand in your pocket and pay that?
  (Mr Irvin) Yes, I would; but, unfortunately, I do not think the majority of people want to do that.

  238. But we could make a recommendation that that should happen?
  (Mr Irvin) I think you should do.

  239. You think we should do?
  (Ms Peak) Yes.
  (Mr Irvin) Yes. You see, we belong to two associations, I belong to another association called BATCA, because we have another business, which is not a fair; there is a prejudice with their particular business, and they have spent an awful lot on PR, and I think it is very good.

1   Witness correction: St James' Park's. Back

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