Police charging at events should be reviewed at a national policy level following concerns that event organisers are struggling to afford increasing rates, according to one of the most senior events producers in Scotland.

Brigadier David Allfrey, Producer & Chief Executive of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, has called for a rethink of the way police costs are calculated during a panel-led debate at EventIt 2017 in Glasgow.

Brigadier Allfrey, a former commander of  51st (Scottish) Brigade, said the principle of charging for events, especially those which make a surplus or profit, is a sound one and that the police have always done a “cracking job” but he questioned the way the cost was worked out.

He said at the moment the charge levied on event organisers was based on a ‘capitation’ rate – which was an “ameliorated cost of every single thing involved in putting a policeman or policewoman on duty” (this includes the likes of uniforms, allowances, recruitment and training), and argued that it should actually be charged at a lower ‘marginal’ rate, which would be priced simply on the additional costs incurred by police in the course of attending the event.

“That number is considerably smaller than what most of us are being charged,” he said. “That number is not set by the police, it is set by the Police Authority. When you look at setting the requirement there is a little bit of a challenge in that the requirement is set by the licensing authority and the police who then provide the service. So I’m not suggesting for a moment that it is legalised racketeering but it amounts to pretty much the same thing. It’s effectively the police and the licensing authority marking their own homework which doesn’t seem to sit quite so right. I will submit that that is an unfair charge on events and festivals, because those policemen have already been paid and budgeted, they’ve been recruited, they’re not recruited especially [for the event].”

Brigadier Allfrey showed an audience of events professionals a stark illustration of the rising police costs for his own event, the Tattoo. Over the course of the last five years the costs have leapt by 168 per cent, a graph he used in a presentation showed.

He said the recent substantial cost rise – which he asked not to be published due to the sensitivity of police operational staffing levels – meant that he was having to look for savings on other aspects of the Tattoo, which runs throughout August at Edinburgh Castle, including perhaps on the fireworks display. Part of the reason for the rise, he added, is that there has also been a change in the way police officer shifts are worked out.

His overarching argument, though, was that costs (including those levied by local authorities in the form of various licensing orders) have gone up in recent years, and that if the policymakers want the events and festivals sector to grow, there should be a “grown-up” debate about how to create the right incentives.

“From my point of view in the events and festivals industry we need to leverage that potential to grow,” he added.

“We all need to grow. The problem that’s happening at the moment is that almost all events and festivals have got anti-growth being built into their budget share. There are many, many costs over which you cannot control and what that is doing it is suppressing growth, which is counter-intuitive when you want your economy to grow.”

He added: “Where I want the events and festivals industry to engage is not with the policemen but with policymakers. There’s a very grown-up discussion to be had at the top of government which is about economic policy; it’s got nothing to do with police charging – it’s about the balance of investment in these big events versus the return on that investment.”

David Jackson, Show Manager of the Royal Highland Show, who was part of the panel discussion, said he also would like to see shift of emphasis in favour of the event entrepreneurs whose efforts help to create wealth in the economy.

“It’s not about how much is charged, it’s about how event organisers and police, and increasingly how local authorities work together because the charges of police, the temporary traffic orders, licensing generally, all of these costs are increasing, which brings us neatly back to those charges which are depressing the event’s growth and also challenging whether that event can be sustainable or not in the long-term,” he said.

“What I’m interested in is, yes, events like the Highland Show, the Tattoo and T in the Park are large events and are static, but I’m really interested in the entrepreneurial side of the industry and developing events which are the growth of the next generation, where the next T in the Park, the next Edinburgh Fringe, the next Wicker Man are coming from,” he said.

He added: “There’s no point going from 4,000 people to 8,000 people because they’ll be working twice as hard and making half as much money. That’s not just a police problem, that’s just the mechanisms of events moving off from being very voluntary and very community orientated. Police charging is bringing us all together but the answer is not about getting into confrontation with the police.”