RSCF cancelled due to failure to obtain Defra licence

The Royal Smithfield Christmas Fair was cancelled duer to the failure of its organisers to obtain a licence from Defra to run the event.

Given that 15 agricultural fairs or more have already been cancelled, amended or shortened this year as a result of the various animal disease outbreaks and the atrocious summer weather it should not have come as too much of a shock, perhaps, when the plug was pulled on the Royal Smithfield Christmas Fair (RSCF).

Those who were cynical about whether the former Royal Smithfield Show could survive a move to the depths of Somerset from its traditional London setting might fleetingly have been tempted to surmise that in its new Christmas Fair livery it had failed to survive a second outing at its new rural setting of the Bath and West Showground because of a lack of real support.

According to Royal Smithfield Club secretary Geoff Burgess, though, the reason was far more mundane; the Club, organisers of the Fair in conjunction with the Royal Bath and West of England Society, had simply failed to obtain a licence from Defra to run the event.

Any event that features livestock requires a special licence and it simply was not forthcoming from the Government. More galling still was the fact that there was no indication of when such a licence would be available.

Anyone who has organised a Show or Fair of any sort knows that with just six weeks to go - it was due to be held on 30 November and 1 December - the financial clock starts ticking relentlessly with costs beginning to pile up for organisers, exhibitors, sponsors and everyone else who participates.

While failure to get a licence out of Defra was the killer blow Burgess was quick to point out that in addition to the foot and mouth problem there is still the blue tongue issue to deal with, not to mention the impact of the depressed state of the pig and poultry sectors, the doubling of feed prices, and the low prices being obtained by lamb producers.

Although not impacting directly on the Fair, all these issues were doubtless contributory factors to concerns about the number of animals that could be moved from the south-east and eastern side of the country to the Fair, and to general confidence.

Yet in late August things were looking bright, said Burgess. Livestock entries were in line with last year's entry levels, trade stand sales were 20 per cent up on the same time last year, and sponsorship was 30 per cent up. Then the second dose of foot and mouth hit followed a bit later by blue tongue disease.

The industry is soldiering on, of course, but at a cost to the planned autumn and winter agricultural fairs season. Some, like the RSCF, have cancelled while others are planning to go ahead but with curtailed livestock activities. This latter course was probably never an option for the Royal Smithfield Club; its Fair, as successor to the world famous London Show, not only had livestock at its heart but in its soul.

While Burgess is happy to point to all the factors that have bedevilled the organisation and eventual demise of this year's Fair he is reluctant to play the blame game. He acknowledges that the Government is between a rock and a hard place in dealing with animal disease - damned by some if they relax restrictions and damned by others if they don't.

The one failing he is prepared to lay at the Government's door, though, is lack of guidance and a structured, disciplined action plan that sets out what the timetable for the way forward should be in such situations. With this, the industry could at least take decisions. Without such guidance it cannot.

The New Year will, it is hoped, bring with it a new start. The RSCF board meets in January to plan the 2008 Fair. The dates are already in the diary, 5 and 6 December.

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