Local Authority Licensing perhaps stands alone as a function of local Government in terms of the majority of its frontline business being with the business community and not with Voters themselves. In real terms, this often means that as Members of a Licensing Committee, the only time we are engaged in Licensing matters direct with the Electorate is when they have made an objection to an Application, and a public hearing or Sub-Committee Meeting has subsequently been convened.
Sadly, this itself usually means that Members are often on the back foot when it comes to relationship building because objectors are usually fighting their corner over events or commercial activities that they feel will impact negatively upon their quality of life and it is therefore quite understandable that they might enter a Committee Room or Council Chamber feeling less than well disposed towards a bench of Councillors who will be left to decide upon a matter which may mean everything to them right then.
Very occasionally however, the opportunity comes along to make a decision which will genuinely help people who are trying to help others and in so doing take steps that could help many more others within the wider community as well.
Such a chance for the Licensing Committee at Tewkesbury Borough Council arose a few weeks ago when Officers contacted me as Chair of the Licensing Committee with an out of the ordinary request to consider discounting what is known as a Street Trading License, which any trader wishing to sell by the roadside – for example ice cream and hot dog vans – must have in order to ply their trade.
A local couple, Vince and Jackie Freeman, who had adopted their dog Marli through the Dogs Trust had decided that they would walk with their now very happy dog from Lands End to John O’Groats in an attempt to raise £25,000.00 for the Dogs Trust and promote awareness and responsible ownership as they do.
Hardly a Licensing matter you would think, but running such a fundraiser in itself requires fundraising, and this is no easy task when your priority is of course getting sponsorship for the main event itself.
Fortunately for Marli, Vince and Jackie, their socially-entrepreneurial friend Tim Longbotham had spied an opportunity to sell refreshments to dog walkers, hikers, tourists and cyclists visiting Leckhampton Hill – location of the famous Devil’s Chimney near Cheltenham, at a site which is located within Tewkesbury Borough.
Tim approached the Borough’s Licensing Department with his plan and Applied for a License which would normally have cost some £470 – a sum which would hardly have boosted the kitty destined to get the dog walking.
So how could we help – and especially so when funds are so very tight these days for any Local Authority before assisting any charity comes to mind?
Firstly, Tim was suggesting a temporary arrangement every other weekend until just before the event in 2014 and to be fair, may not have chosen to proceed anyway if we had charged him such a fee.
Secondly, no commercial or not-for-profit operators are located nearby who would have experienced direct competition from what Tim has aptly called ‘Charitea’, and this was borne out when we checked that neither of the two other Authorities had Licensed anyone nearby, as was the case with Tewkesbury Borough itself.
Finally, we looked at the synergies between what the walk itself represents – care and responsible management – and realised that like almost every other District and of course Parish Council in the Country, we do have an ongoing problem with poor pet management when some people walk their dogs and don’t clear up their pet’s poo from areas in public use. (If you are reading this and are in any doubt, clearing up does not include bagging, when the bags are then left where they were filled or worse left tied to a fence or nearby tree!)
Fouling is a horrid habit because of the impact that it can have in so many ways. Dog waste can be harmful to people and to other pets just because of the bugs and parasites that may be present. That’s before I mention the less than friendly and inevitable clean-up that must follow when stinky mess has been stepped in and ends up in cars or on house carpets.
The cost of clear-ups to Local Authorities – and therefore all of us as Council Tax payers – is potentially significant. Just in Tewkesbury Borough, simply dealing with complaints and planning for the setting up dog bins was estimated to cost £2,700 over the last year in Officer time alone and that doesn’t include support costs, any clearing up or the purchase and installation of the bins which are provided by the Parish Councils. (Clearing up also includes picking up those bags which don’t magically travel to doggy bins from the pathway, branch or fence where they were left!). When you consider that the whole process is avoidable, you can see why the overall cost to us all simply makes no sense.
So when we considered the fact that no other trade would be harmed; that the event on Leckhampton Hill might not even happen if we insisted on the charge, and that as a Council, we need to promote good pet management and encourage all dog owners to be responsible and clear up after their pets, supporting Tim and ‘Marli’s Walk’ as they in turn support the Dogs Trust was really not in doubt and waiving the fee to do our bit was not a difficult question. Call it ‘waive to save’ if you like.
Many people walk or cycle the Lands End to John O’Groats route for various Charities and some even do it as part of their Bucket List or one of the 50 things to do before they die. Whatever the reason, on either a personal of charitable level, its usually a good one and a rescue dog walking the length of our Country to support a Charity which gives hope and leads to great lives for many more pets certainly has its very own form of uniqueness about it.
Our current Borough Mayor, Cllr. Claire Wright and the Deputy Mayor, Cllr. Mike Dean – who will probably be Mayor of the Borough in June 2014 when the walk takes place – both agreed and have thrown their full support behind ‘Charitea’, which is set to run for the first time on Saturday 20th July.
In difficult times when difficult decisions mean there is so little we can otherwise do to help fundraising in the community, it is great to know that we might have been able to help a genuine cause without cost to the Council Budget, but in such a way that has so much potential to have a positive impact on the lives of so many other people (and their animals) – even if only whilst they walk, and may even save Tewkesbury Borough and some of our Parishes some money in the future.
If you would like to support ‘Charitea’ by visiting for Refreshments, they will be available at The Quarry Car Park, Hartley Lane, Leckhampton Hill, Nr. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire from 7am to 1pm, both the Saturday and Sunday of alternate weekends from the weekend of the 20th/21st July 2013 to the weekend of 27th/28th April 2014.
Please follow the TBC Twitter Account and Tewkesbury Borough News for further news.
image thanks to http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
UPDATE – 11 July 2014:
Tim wrote to the Council today to provide an update on Charitea.
People were very supportive of the Fundraiser on Leckhampton Hill and despite the original walk which Charitea had been planned to support sadly being cancelled in October, Tim continued as planned and finally raised a fantastic £2232.82 which was donated to the Dogs Trust.
Good work Tim – Well done!