Tom Clements is a man who’s been involved in events longer than he cares to mention. What he doesn’t know about planning for an outdoor gig or festival – be it traffic management, crowd control, chemical loos or (possibly) even the weather – is probably not worth knowing. His company is Specialized Security but it’s for his role as the Chairman of NOEA (National Outdoor Events Association) Scotland that he’s most well-known among event professionals in Scotland. NOEA Scotland has been in existence for around seven-and-a-half years, and started with just a handful of members who wanted to bring some professionalism, experience, influence and reach to the business of outdoor events – which it is fair to say had not been valued as a sector up to that point. It was an imbalance and NOEA Scotland was an attempt to correct it; several years down the line and the organisation has expanded massively from the six or seven forerunners to a membership of approaching a hundred. For an association that has around 700 across the UK, Scotland has a very healthy proportion of those members. But there were also clear legal and political reasons for setting up NOEA Scotland; with different legislation in Scotland, different systems governing local authorities, fire, police and ambulance services (increasingly so since the regional forces merged into national bodies four years ago), it made sense for NOEA to have its own distinct representation north of the Border.
I meet Tom in his office at a trading estate in Livingston; it’s pouring down outside, perhaps fittingly, when I’m here to talk about the state of outdoor events in Scotland, which are in a very healthy condition, according to Tom, have increasingly become recognised for the economic benefit they create, are attracting more big sponsors and are more creative than ever before.
“Events have changed hugely over the last decade or so,” he says. “You could say there used to be a certain element of giving something a go, and an event might only last for a year before closing; some didn’t even get off the ground at all. It was not exactly amateur but there was an element of that. Now there is much more of a professional focus; after all, people want to succeed in life. Whatever they do, they want to be good at it, make money and be a success. Events are no different. But where in the past you might have someone wanting to make a fast buck, now they’re much more in it for the long haul. I think that’s been the big change.”
There’s no getting away from the fact that Tom has himself helped shape many of the rules and regulations that have shaped outdoor events over the years, and has been involved on steering committees that determine the elements and ongoing amendments of what goes into the rulebook. Again he has witnessed a marked shift. He swears by something called the ‘Purple Guide’, which is, as far as he is concerned, the outdoor events bible. It is designed to be a stepby-step guide covering every single conceivable part of putting on an event: from crowd control, to environmental considerations, to licensing, policing, health and safety and much, much more. Now, more than ever, the sheer weight of guidance greatly reduces the chances of an incident causing a massive rethink in how events are planned. That’s not to say all bases have been covered, it’s just a testament to the fact that planning guidelines are now so extensive.
“Incidents don’t cause things now,” Tom explains. “The days where we react to things are probably behind us now; that’s not to say we’re immune to everything that might happen, it’s more that we now look at these things and plan and interpret everything that could happen and build plans around it.”
Perhaps one area that has caused most disquiet in outdoor events planning in the last couple of years has been the cost of policing them, an issue that will be a hot topic of discussion this year at EventIt’s Knowledge Exchange. Tom doesn’t mince his words and says the police have done some “silly things” around the way they charge for events. Not only are the costs for the time of individual officers high, some events have seen their bills increase substantially from one year to the next. For events planners setting their prices, to face a bill increase after they have put on sale the following year’s tickets is clearly difficult to manage.
“You can’t go back out there and charge an extra 25% on tickets already sold, so the police aren’t helping themselves,” Tom insists.
But he is also quick to put the onus on event organisers, who must have the confidence and wherewithal to negotiate with local police commanders; he gives an example of a recent festival where police were concerned about people exiting onto a main road at night and therefore wanted to station two officers on the road all day.
“They didn’t need them all day; all they needed was a TTRO (Temporary Traffic Regulation Order) for an hour and a traffic management company to oversee it. It’s all down to negotiation and planning. If I get a client ask me to justify why I need 20 crowd management staff, I’ll have to do that; we’ll go through it line by line, to work out why they are needed. It should be the same with the police. Quite often the police don’t want to be there – they just want to be reassured that the product you’re running is safe and secure.”
To that end, Tom is a strong advocate of involving police at an early stage in planning an event. He would like to see the model of the Borders Council – where Safety Advisory Groups (SAG) puts event planners in front of a committee chaired by the Local Authority become the norm.
“If you can sit down at first SAG meeting and plan the traffic flows, and how the stages can be angled to such a degree that audible noise is minimised, or whatever it is, all of a sudden they don’t have much to argue about or complain about,” adds Tom. “All of a sudden those hurdles you thought were going to get in the way are no longer a problem.”