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

Memorandum by the Amusement Catering Equipment Society (TF 11)

  The enclosed is the initial response of the above society, known generally as ACES. Due to the short time scale with which we have been faced it is not a fully researched document and is only intended to give a feeling of how members perceive the day to day problems.

  We do realise that some things mentioned, whilst desirable are not easy to implement, and we do not, at this stage, offer solutions to some of the other issues raised.

  ACES would be only too pleased to give further help with this inquiry, and would welcome any request to ballot our members for a more detailed opinion of the various aspects that may be raised by yourselves or one of the other trade groups that have a vested interest. We would be pleased also, to learn the reason behind the inquiry in order that we may offer help that is both constructive and relevant to the exercise.

  The main aims of ACES include the following:

  To help in the continuing effort to keep the fairground and amusement industry alive and well in the United Kingdom.

  To promote members as being responsible people in the community.

  To represent members on all applicable government bodies.

  To regulate members in a way that ensures they operate in a safe, courteous and responsible manner.

  We, as the committee, can only fulfil these aims by taking an active part in all things that concern the industry, and see this inquiry as a very important event in which we must be fully involved.

Geoffrey Thompson

Safety Officer ACES


  With reference to the above inquiry, Showmen have over the years had many problems to overcome, some of their own making it has to be said. Among the main areas that are cause for concern are Transport, Living Accommodation, (winter and summer), Staffing, Fuel costs and Lack of sites, and Education, Self employed status.

  I will start with Transport as this is the first requirement of a travelling Showman. We are very pleased with the concessions of Road Fund Licence that most of us enjoy, and see it as only just, given that we are very low mileage users. I would suggest that most of our members only move once a week and then only a few miles. Someone travelling 150 miles would be the exception, most will only travel around 30-40 miles on average, each move. That might total about 3,000 miles a year, which is most likely mile for mile more expensive than other road users.

  We do however feel the cost of fuel, and like other road users, would like this to be brought into line with our neighbours. The ability to use red fuel for generating is of great advantage to us and whilst we could not expect that to be permitted for our road vehicles, I would suggest that as fuel price rises are inflationary, because the price is just passed on, perhaps a green fuel is created for commercial vehicles that carries a lower tax than that for private users. It is not easy for Fairground ride owners to pass on a small increase in cost and we have to absorb such rises until we reach a stage whereby we can make a jump to the next suitable price. This is because we are conditioned to have fees for rides in nice round figures. The public would not accept £1.27p as a reasonable ride charge, and we couldn't manage the change situation, with the time it takes to collect, before each ride. Therefore we would need to make price rises of more than what is required in order to recoup our extra costs, as a big jump in price deters many people it is likely that such price hikes are counter productive. I don't see this as a problem that your inquiry could solve but is designed to help put you in line with the thinking of the average Showman. He wants to make a good profit but not as a highway robber.

  Still with transport we have some problems of classification. The current Rates of Vehicle Excise Duty "V149" shows a classification of Showman's Haulage which we had previously registered as. However, although it is still listed we cannot get a vehicle in that group. When we asked for a description of a Showman's haulage vehicle, so that we could commission one, we got no help at all. In fact we were told to make the vehicle we wanted and then they would give it a group. If they are capable of giving a vehicle a group then, it follows that each group must have a definition of what is required, however, no matter what I do, they say there is no such detail available. One would assume that the inspectors for this type of work are trained in some manner to allow a consistent outcome. If so they must be informed of what each group should consist of. We would be pleased to receive a copy of these requirements so that we may more easily have vehicles in the classification that most suits us. We are not asking for anything new here we just want to know what the existing rules are so that we can do our part lawfully. Perhaps as a new departure you could compile a pamphlet that contains all information relevant to Showman's classes of vehicles and trailers, including testing requirements of both men and machines. This would be a great help to us, as at the moment we have to refer to several documents that are at times not all that clear and sometimes contradictory. With due respect to my colleagues, the travelling way of life has left many of them with an educational disadvantage, in that they find difficulty with the printed word. To have to collate information from various sources does nothing to help this situation. A booklet as described would be of great benefit to all of us, but more so for those with reading difficulties. This information needs to be carefully presented in a form that is both clear and unambiguous, perhaps with a careful use of graphics. Ninety nine per cent of the Showmen that I know want to do the job right, and most of those who get it wrong do so unwittingly.

  I suppose that as I have introduced the topic of education it is with that with which I should continue. As stated, education has been a great problem, not that it isn't any longer, but many Showmen now have bases from which they work. No longer do they all take big Living Wagons around the countryside week after week, but strike out for short periods often living in small touring vans towed by 4x4's. This change in life style has put in an element of stability that wasn't there previously, this has allowed children to more readily attend school as a regular pupil. I must point out that this does not apply to all Showmen but I would suggest a good selection. For those who still travel in the traditional manner some help is needed. As a teacher myself of some twenty five years the itinerant pupil attending for a week here and a week there is not going to progress as you would expect. I feel that children are better suited if visited by a tutor where they happen to reside at the time. I know this is very difficult but these pupils are usually keen to learn, but it should be accepted that the National Curriculum is not a suitable vehicle for the needs of this group. They would probably show teachers a thing or two about all matters artistic and mechanical so why try to repeat this subject matter. A good grounding in literacy and numeracy will be sufficient for most travellers, providing there is an extension available to those who wish to take a more traditional type of education. They will need help to take any form of further education. It will not be cheap to provide but could be done if there is the political determination. The sum required will not be vast in governmental terms but head for head will outrate anything a school could expect to receive for each pupil. To help reduce costs it may be useful to develop a self help work scheme that a pupil can work through largely on his/her own with a regular tutorial to update and guide. It may also be possible to put lessons on via the Internet but a survey would need to be carried out to see if enough had access to it to make it worthwhile. As staff time is the most costly aspect of education any method of cutting down contact time would be worth a look at. This includes cutting out irrelevant subject matter.

  Staff on Fairs is also a problem and many assistants are part time workers. It is difficult to organise staff as they are required for only short periods of time but on a very irregular basis. Many Showmen have full time helpers but equally as many need casual help. The Showman himself does not usually have a problem with this but the status of a helper is somewhat in flux. Although I personally have had little to do with it I believe the new requirements of self employed status has had an adverse effect on the ability to register self employed without being a stake holder in the activity in which they are involved. I have read about transport companies having difficulty in recruiting casual drivers because they can't act as self employed as their earnings fall way below the £30,000 a year they need to show before they can register. I understand this is to keep tags on itinerant builders and the like, but there are many Showmen who don't earn that amount, never mind the staff. It is very difficult to get the right staff and this situation needs to be cleared so as to allow a proper system to be adopted, whereby Showmen can have casual self employed staff working for them without infringing any rules.

  Good sites for travelling Fairs are being lost year by year, this causes Fairs to move to less suitable sites that are often in derelict areas of towns. This does nothing to improve the image of the travelling Fair, which to some is seen as seedy and on the fringe of the underworld. There are some Showmen who do nothing to dispel that image and their activities have a detrimental effect on us all.

  On the continent many towns have areas that are dedicated to travelling Fairs, circuses and other itinerant entertainments. It is common for travellers to pull onto a site and connect direct to electricity, water and sewage for their domestic use and to electricity for their rides and shows. This obviously cuts down on noise because they don't need to run generators all day. It could be argued that it is also better for the environment but as the electricity needs to be made somewhere there is always some environmental problem. I could not imagine that anyone would run out and make sites for Showmen which they could not afford to pay for, but when re-developing town centres some sympathetic planning could be employed and I suggest that removable planters could be used, to replace static ones. These could be large enough to have the stability required of a public artefact but still within the limit of a fork lift truck which could move them away when required. Other street furniture might receive a similar treatment so that lampposts, benches and dustbins etc. are no longer a hindrance. Many places have been re-paved with concrete paving that are not strong enough to take the weight of the vehicles we use so preventing us from using that site again. At the time of development it would not be too expensive to use heavier paving or a different surface finish, as the installation costs would still be somewhat similar. However, a retrospective re-surfacing could be quite beyond normal refurbishing costs.

  I feel that all towns would benefit from a designated events area on which they could have all manner of Fairs, circuses, shows and exhibitions. It would be of benefit to any town and would encourage organisers to attend if the services were suitable. Obviously town councils would like to make a charge for this service, but it should bear in mind that benefits are not always monetary, and they have a duty to provide all manner of things to the towns folk. At the moment we are pushed around various vacant plots and then when they are turned into car parks councils won't give up the revenue for a few days so an event can take place. Not all Showmen, if any, are making vast profits, those with big modern machines mainly have big modern bank repayments to make. Most of ACES members operate vintage or smaller equipment that doesn't have the earning power of some of the modern rides and therefore could not afford a high profile site. But in return we do offer a family show, whereas the modern Fair might deter parents with young families due to the boisterous nature of the teenagers it caters for.

  Some councils will only allow Fairs provided by members of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. Any suggestions of a Fair by anyone else is unacceptable. Indeed we had problems with one council who refused to even send a tender form to one of our members. This of course is totally unacceptable, in the event this particular problem was solved but I believe many councils still have a policy of this kind. The SGGB alsohave a policy that precludes integration with non-guild members. To a certain degree I think this is acceptable, indeed, we at ACES would instinctively offer any available space to other ACES members, but where we are unable to get the equipment we want it is open to anyone who can supply what is required and fulfil the safety requirements.

  Over the last few years all the major trade groups have helped to draw up the new Guidance notes with the HSE and we all agreed to comply with that guidance. At some cost it must be said. This being so all groups are now working to the same standard and therefore should be accepted as equal. Any move to rectify this situation would not only be welcome but essential. That said we don't expect our members to attempt to take over any other groups established Fairs, but use the opportunity to create new events and widen the scope for all Showmen who should be able to work together in a pleasant atmosphere of mutual benefit. Neither do we expect our members to take on tenders which they are unable to fulfil.

  Most of our members find work at events throughout the country, and few take on" "private business". The difference being that eventers don't need to take on any responsibility for the promotion of the event, that is done by the organiser and the Fair is only part of the show or rally etc. When taking on private business the Fair is the show and totally in control of the organising Showman. He is responsible for all aspects of the Fair from booking the site, getting permission and safety inspections of the site from the local council, if it is on their land and also from the services that may be concerned. The Fire Service like to be involved at an early stage and usually have good advice which, when taken can make life easier later on. If recognised sites were made available it would be much easier to provide a layout that would meet all the needs of the HSE, Fire Service, Police and anyone else with a vested interest. We all wish to provide a safe environment for our customers and good sites would go a long way to achieving this at a higher level than our already excellent standard.

  When not working the Showman has still to keep on the move, when a Fair is over he needs to move on to the next event. However, he is lucky when he can move on to the next site direct from one just ended. Usually he will need to park up somewhere until he is able to get onto the next site. In this situation the event does usually have the edge over private business. Most events are held on Greenfield sites and when the event is over there isn't the same urgency to remove from the site and likewise it is often possible to arrive a day or so early. This doesn't apply very often for those involved with private business, these sites are often "car parks" "closed roadways" or similar areas with another function that is required as soon as the Fair is completed, often requiring the Showman to pull down throughout the night and be away so normal business can resume the next day. Having worked all day and night the Showman now is faced with a further problem. To drive home or to the next Fair or to park up and get some well earned rest. The safer option is to get some rest but the change in law for camping in lay-by's and the like intended to stop "New age travellers" makes this very difficult and a simple amendment to that law would make life a little easier for the Showman. If the Showman decides to go to the next Fair he is still in this position because he will have to wait at that venue. If he goes to what he calls home he face the extra expense of the journey home and then out to the next Fair. This is also undesirable for the environment, because of the extra traffic and pollution thereby caused. We do need to have the rules for overnight stays looked into, I feel sure it is a reasonable request and not a great problem to fulfil.

  When not travelling at all the Showman needs somewhere more permanent to reside, and true to say most do have some place they call home. This varies according to ones wealth from a corner of a field to a modest house with a bit of land used for parking the vehicles and carrying out the repairs required to keep the equipment in a safe order. Some Showmen live in Showmen's Winter Quarters which are very useful and create small communities and often these groups of Showmen will work together to create business each attending the Fair organised by their colleague and reciprocating the arrangement at another Fair. During the off season they also divide their skills to help with maintenance, and modification. Apparently not all Showmen can return to their quarters during the summer, I am not well read about this, but as I understand it they don't pay full rates, as they are away for part of the year as normally they will be travelling and not using the quarters. The inability to return to quarters at will I think is something that should no longer be allowed to be written into the agreement for quarters as if nothing else it discourages a return for proper repair work should something arise mid-season. It has also been difficult to get planning permission to create a Showman's Winter Quarters. I am not sure what the objection to Showman's Quarters are, but of course being involved I agree I do see one side of the matter more clearly than those not involved. Travellers of any persuasion are often unjustly feared, it is something to do with accountability and the transient, or ephemeral way of life, coupled with a host of larger than life characters only adds to this suspicion.

February 2000

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