I could hardly believe it at first when she told me, but I checked up on a number of websites and, sure enough, they all said the same thing. Now I confess to having a slightly jaundiced view of insurance companies: after all, the more afraid they can make you, the more profit they make.
What's going on here is that councils are being required to take out their own Public Liability Insurance, which they do with specialist insurers. These insurers in turn try to wriggle out of their responsibility by saying that it's the guest speaker's job to insure themselves. The council leaders hand down the edict to the rest of their staff, and that's the end of it.
Prices paid for PLI vary a lot, from just over £20 to almost £100. The one at £22 will still include a commission for the organisers (these things are simply underwritten) and almost everything else must be simply administration costs. The actual "insurance" portion of the payment must be negligible.
Which equates, surely, to the risk. What on earth could possibly happen at an author event in a public library? Could the sound of the author's voice break £5,000,000's worth of windows? Could the snoring of the audience crack the building's foundations? Perhaps a pile of the author's books could topple over and cause injuries so severe that the author gets sued for £5,000,000 damages. (And just to be clear, criminal conduct and defamation are always excluded.)
If anyone's got any ideas, please let me know. Meantime, as the author said, "Council rules are rules."