Local children could have their summer spoiled following a council decision which will see an events fee for a bouncy castle company increased by 2,000 per cent.
For over a decade Jim Johnstone has brought his inflatable slide and bouncy castle business to Shetland, to the delight of youngsters throughout the isles.
But now the council’s environmental health department has decided that business owner Mr Johnstone and his team should pay a steep fee if they wish to continue with their summer enterprise.
The inflatables are a regular fixture at local agricultural shows such as the ones in Voe and Cunningsburgh. Between these appearances the business can often be found in the King Harald Street playpark.
For the past 13 years Mr Johnstone has paid for a community events licence when setting up his inflatable slide, gazebo and fun run in the playpark.
In recent years this has cost £75 – plus an additional fee for usage of the park – but this year the council have asked for £1,500 up front for use of the playpark.
According to Mr Johnstone a fee of £1,500 is normally reserved for fun fairs and other park activities which come with moving parts. He said inflatables, on the other hand, normally incurred “a cheap events charge from every local council, except for Shetland”.
Patti Dinsdale of the council’s environmental health department said that the option of a £75 fee was available to Mr Johnstone, provided that his stint in the playpark was run as a community event and not a commercial one.
In order to qualify for this lower fee the community agricultural shows instrumental in bringing the business to Shetland would have to be involved in the risk assessment. That would mean monitoring the playpark to ensure that Mr Johnstone was following the assessment.
But Helena Johnson of the Voe Show Committee questioned the validity of this approach.
She said: “There is no one available to assist with this as it’s show season. And how are we to know more about a risk assessment than the man who has done this for 20 years?”
Ms Dinsdale said an application of this nature was not forthcoming, and that if one had been made environmental health “would have looked on it favourably”.
The rise in fees is due to a decision made in 2012, when the council decided that community events should pay a fee of £75, while commercial ones should pay fees on a staggered structure – of which a charge of around £1,500 was the lowest.
Mrs Johnson has sought to involve councillors, with a possible review of the fee structures now on the table for later in the year.
Ms Dinsdale said: “If they want to look at reviewing it that’s fine with me. If anything it might be a benefit to us.”
If a review does not lead to a change of policy Mr Johnstone fears that he may no longer be able to visit the isles during the summer months.
His operations in Shetland require him to pay for the travel, wages, food and accommodation of his three employees who make the trip with him.
In the past this meant straddling the thin line between profit and loss. An increase in fees of £1,400 could mean the difference between a profitable trip and a loss-making one.
He said that his only hope now is to drum up some private hire work for the week between the Voe Show and the Walls Show.
Mrs Johnson reiterated the risk Mr Johnstone takes in visiting Shetland every summer.
She said: “He was invited to Shetland by myself 13 years ago to entertain the children. At the beginning we paid for him but now he funds himself.
“He’s taking a big risk. If on the day it is too windy or rainy for him to set up his slide then he won’t make any money.”
Mr Johnstone said that he understood safety concerns and admitted that “legislation is legislation”. But he felt that environmental health had “come up with every stumbling block they could think of”.
He also said he felt safety concerns were being overstated, given that he already had a £5 million liability insurance policy on the company.
Mr Johnstone said he was disappointed by his treatment because “in the past I have always done everything that was asked of me. And I have always had a great working relationship with everyone in Shetland.”
Mrs Johnson said that it was not just Mr Johnstone who would suffer, but also local children in Lerwick enjoying their summer break.
She said: “It’s the peerie bairns who will lose out. Now there will be nothing in the town for them.”