Memorandum submitted by Zippos Circus

 

Zippos Circus is one of the largest of some 30+ circuses that tour the UK each year, and has a maximum seating capacity of 925 persons. Our touring season usually lasts from February until November, when we visit around 40 separate venues, generally for a week at each venue. Whilst we understand the need for regulation and compliance with legislation, we believe that the requirement for a separate licence for every circus venue we visit has placed an unreasonable burden on our circus and upon the industry as a whole.

 

We believe that the visit of a circus serves a useful and important function in bringing good quality, affordable live entertainment to local communities. It is often the first experience of live performance for young people, and as one of the most inclusive forms of entertainment, it deserves to be valued and to be supported by both local and national Government. Circus is a vital and integral part of our national heritage, the circus as we know it today was "invented" by an Englishman, Philip Astley, in 1768, since which time circuses performances were unlicensed until the Licensing Act 2003.

 

The introduction of the Licensing Act 2003 has caused a major impact on our business and our method of operation, by increasing our administrative and operating costs. - Unlike theatres who may benefit from the act, Zippos Circus has had to apply for Premises Licenses for over 30 venues at a cost of up to 1000 per license, along with many hours of administrative time (sometimes attending Licensing hearings) thus reducing our income and profitability.

 

Our experience of making a Premises Licence applications is that the time-scale is far longer than anticipated: Because of the possibility of an objection, it may take three months for the grant of a licence, and it is only then that we can start to print posters, place advertising and sell tickets. This means that a four-month lead-time is realistic. But of course we must also be prepared for an application to be refused and allow enough time for an alternative venue to be sought and licensed, and this further extends the process.

 

More significantly, the Licensing Acts 2003 denies us the flexibility to chose and change venues that is all-important to the successful operation of our circus. Of course flooded parks in 2007 caused us to have to change venues at short notice last year, which in most cases meant operating on a TEN which reduced our seating capacity by half !

 

We have been forced to change a venue at short notice on nine occasions in 2007, and eleven occasions during 2008, and the ability to do so is vital to operating successfully. Such changes may be required for various reasons, with the increased rainfall and subsequent flooding of venues during the past two years a significant factor. Waterlogged grounds make it difficult for the set-up and operation of our circus and will deter the public from attending. On occasions we have had no option but to perform where ground conditions are unsuitable, because an alternative, licensed venue has not been available, and have experienced a loss of income through poor attendance, and an increase in costs for repairs to the ground following our visit. Such ground-damage often makes a landowner or local authority unwilling to consider future circus visits, and can also have an adverse affect on the relationship between our circus and a park's user group in the local community.

 

The necessity to change venues at short notice has forced us to give Temporary Event Notices on many occasions, with the resulting limitations on the number of days, number of performances, and audience capacity. These limitations have had a considerable impact: Although the capacity of up to 500 persons present that is permitted by a TEN is sometimes sufficient, the reality is that we expect to perform to a small audience on a weekday evening and rely on a weekend full-house to break-even. This subsequent loss of revenue means that TENs are not a viable option and are only used when the alternative is to close the circus.

 

During 2007 and 2008, the restrictions imposed by the Licensing Act 2003 have encouraged us to take our circus to Scotland for a significant part of each year. Here, we have found that the licensing policy is more consistent, with the result that our administration is easier and more straightforward. In most local authority areas the timescale for the grant of a Temporary Entertainment Licence is far shorter.

 

Many Licensing Authorities we have visited recently take the view that our particular circus does not contain any regulated entertainment have therefore declared Zippos exempt from licensing. For example;

Circus music for example must be considered incidental. The acts can play without music, and circus music is not an advertised attraction on our posters.

Is a clown act a play? And if it were, would 6 mins of clowning out of 2hrs total of circus make a circus licensable?

Does a high wire walker walk or dance on the high wire?

 

The varying interpretations are based largely on section 10.35 of the Guidance Notes, the only section of the legislation to address the question of circus licensing:

 

10.35 In the case of circuses and fairgrounds, much will depend on the content of any entertainment presented. For example, at fairgrounds, a good deal of the musical entertainment may be incidental to the main attractions and rides at the fair which are not themselves regulated entertainment. However, in the case of a circus, music and dancing are likely to be main attractions themselves (and would be regulated  entertainment) amidst a range of other activities which are not all regulated entertainment.

 

If exemption for bona fide circuses will now be considered as a realistic option, then we would like to suggest that this can be achieved by amending this section of the guidance notes, maybe;

 

In the case of circuses and fairgrounds, much will depend on the content of any entertainment presented. For example, at fairgrounds and circuses, a good deal of the musical entertainment may be incidental to the main attractions and rides at the fair or circus acts are not themselves regulated entertainment.

 

We feel that a change in the guidance notes would be the simplest "fix" to the of benefit to all parties. Licensing Officers would still then be able to rule on music events (raves) that might include circus acts but are clearly NOT circuses without having to define what a circus is.

 

Why License circuses? There has certainly been not benefit in Health and Safety terms, H & S inspections were rigorously carried out at circuses before Licensing, and this continues to be the case. Since circuses sell no alcohol and present family entertainment where Mum and Dad are present there is no risk to children. Our experience is that the burden on licensing circuses is considerable, and the benefit none.

 

Zippos Circus support the submission made by the Association of Circus Proprietors that it is reasonable to ask that a more appropriate system for circus licensing should be determined, and hope that a way forward can be found that will support this most worthwhile entertainment.

 

September 2008