AFTER vehement criticism from a consortium of countryside organisations, the Government has made a U-turn by promising that it will not put small country shows and gymkhanas out of business by imposing huge increases in drink-sales licences.
As we reported last week (See News), there were fears that some 20 Yorkshire agricultural shows might be driven into bankruptcy because of swingeing increases in bar licence levies - because such events depend of bar profits to cover their costs.
As a result of the pressure, Licensing Minister Richard Caborn - the man who wants 24-hour-drinking in pubs and clubs despite massive opposition - rushed out a statement saying that "most" outdoor sports, flower shows and "most of what goes on at agricultural shows" should not face the new fees.
He added: "We value agricultural events, music festivals and rural shows - they are an integral part of our culture and we want them to thrive."
Although the statement seemed deliberately vague to many observers - licensing fees will now be decided by local authorities rather than magistrates - it was received with some satisfaction by rural groups
Chris Bushby, Chairman of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations commented, "We are reassured by the understanding the minister has shown the industry, especially in the cost implications that could have been levied.
"We have welcomed the prompt response to the concerns of the industry by the minister and we hope that the local authorities who will be enforcing this legislation will interpret it fairly across the country following this resolve from the ministry."
The proposes fees, when first announced, could have ranged from £5,000 to £50,000 - huge sums dismissed by many as not so much a way of controlling alcohol sales to prevent yobbish behaviour but as yet another "stealth" tax.