The future of the county’s flagship show which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year could be in jeopardy.
The Lincolnshire Agricultural Society (LAS) is challenging West Lindsey District Council’s decision to remove its charitable rate relief.
The LAS, which operates from Lincolnshire Showground, is a non-profit making charitable organisation, set up in 1869.
Because of the work it does for the Lincolnshire community in terms of education on food and farming with schools, colleges and charitable organisations, the LAS has had an 80% charitable rate relief for decades.
The matter has now been called into question by the district council.
A spokeswoman for WLDC said: “As this is an ongoing court case, we are unable to comment at this time.”
The LAS is fighting the action saying that without the rate relief, some of its events could be scaled back – including the size and scale of the Lincolnshire Show, causing a ‘domino effect’ on local businesses.
Mary and Michael Davenport, owners of Cote Hill Cheese from Osgodby, have been dairy farmers for more than 50 years and have been exhibiting at the Lincolnshire Show for more than ten years.
Michael said: “We exhibit at the Lincolnshire Show, Food and Gift Fair and Countryside Lincs. It produces brilliant results for our business, brings in a lot of local and new customers and helps make the connection between us and our consumers.
“We rely on Lincolnshire Showground events to sell our produce and help our business grow.”
With an additional burden on finances imposed by West Lindsey District Council, entry prices for Lincolnshire Show could also rise.
An entry charge may also have to be introduced for educational events hosted by LAS - which are normally free.
LAS Chairman Jane Hiles said: “This has been a really difficult time for us. All of the work that the LAS carries out is for the good of the county – and its people and therefore, we strongly believe we should receive a charitable rate relief.
“Without the charitable rate relief, the LAS could be faced with an annual increased cost of almost £70,000 per year – money that is currently earmarked in delivering our educational work.”
Jayne Southall, CEO of the Lincolnshire Showground, added: “Hosting such a large event as the Lincolnshire Show and maintaining the showground’s 243-acre site, including its additional buildings and infrastructure, costs money and the only way we can uphold such important charitable work is by generating income outside of charity events.
“We fully intend to challenge the decision taken by West Lindsey District Council to remove charitable rate relief for the showground so that we can ensure the future of our much-loved show, charitable work and the viability of other businesses and organisations that rely on our events and venue for income.”
The LAS, which has had a permanent home at the Lincolnshire Showground for more than 60 years and celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, gift aids 100% of surplus funds from non-charity bookings into maintaining Lincolnshire Showground and delivering its educational work.
Jane Hiles added: “We do not make a profit on the Lincolnshire Show. It is a showcase event held every year for the good of the community, businesses and the farming network.
“It may seem that we are securely funded, but in fact our margins are extremely tight and we have to constantly review costs.
“The wet show in 2019 and the burden of the legal costs we incurred in the action with West Lindsey District Council, resulted in a trading loss of more than £100,000 in the year 2018/19.”
Jayne Southall added: “The showground operates in the same way as around 20 other major agricultural showgrounds across the UK.
“The UK agricultural industry relies on its county showgrounds to be centres which host conferences, meetings and major events.
“We believe the showground plays a pivotal role in allowing the LAS to achieve its charitable objective and that, as such, the venue should qualify for the charitable rate relief that it has always historically received.
“The Lincolnshire Show requires year-round planning and organisation to ensure high standards of safety, quality and educational value, and not only do we fulfil our charitable objectives with the show and the showground, but we also make a huge difference to the local economy, supporting local businesses and providing lots of temporary jobs.”
Employing more than 20 staff, the charity team works all year-round to meet the aims and objectives of the organisation as defined by the Charity Commission and - in addition to the annual show - also provides satellite educational events and activities throughout the year, benefitting thousands of local children, farmers and their families.
NFU East Midlands Regional Director, Gordon Corner, said: “LAS plays an absolutely crucial role as an educational charity, teaching young people about the vital part farming plays in the county and the country.
“The innovative and exciting activities LAS puts on demonstrate not only how much work the society does, but also how important it is that this progress continues.
“People today have never been more removed from how their food is produced, despite a massive surge in interest into the subject and, on that basis, the charitable and educational work LAS does must be allowed to continue.
In addition to hosting events ran by the LAS, Lincolnshire Showground acts as a venue for other charitable organisations such as the national Scouting Jamboree and St Barnabas Hospice.
Bill Meredith, chief executive and principal at Riseholme College, which is a part of Bishop Burton College, said: “We have a strong relationship with the LAS – our new Showground Campus is located just a short distance away at the Lincolnshire Showground, which is a huge benefit.
“We share similar objectives in terms of educating people about food, farming and a sustainable environment and we work together to host joint events to help get young people interested in agriculture and to improve their understanding on where their food comes from.
“The LAS also helps provide work experience for our students – something invaluable and incredibly important from an educational aspect and future-proofing farming.”