The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Wednesday 1st November 2006 - Why the MU position on licensing is wrong

In terms, the current MU position on the Licensing Act is that to justify lobbying for reform they need hard evidence of a significant negative impact on members - and so far they haven't found it.  Moreover, union officers have recently claimed that the UK is currently experiencing a 'widely acknowledged boom in live music'.

This position is untenable for the following reasons:

In 2000, the union published research into members' freelance work opportunities. The 60-page report, entitled 'Nice Work - If You Can Get it!', was based on 3,000 questionnaires completed by MU members in December 1998. It included a foreword by Mick Hucknall. The data analysis was done by academics then based at the University of Westminster: Norton York and Dave Laing. Former culture minister Janet Anderson was the star attraction at the MU's press launch held in the Wigmore Hall on 05 July 2000.

According to the report's Introduction, the research was commissioned in response to a motion passed at the MU's 1997 Conference which asked the Executive Committee: 'to initiate and fund research into the massive decline in freelance work opportunities of all kinds, both in the media and in all other areas of casual engagements, and asks the Executive Committee to formulate policies that will help musicians collectively to improve their employment prospects.'

Nice Work's Executive Summary included these key findings:

'The vast majority of musicians are freelance/self-employed' 'Only 18% earned more than £20,000 - the [then] national average wage' and 'Musicians' employment has been severely affected by legislation on Public Entertainment licences (which places financial penalties on premises employing more than two musicians).'

In the section quoting members' comments, p19, it noted: 'There is a clear desire among musicians that government reconsiders this whole issue to enable more venues to afford a PEL and to expand work opportunities for freelance musicians. ' [My emphasis]

In this context, the current MU position on licensing seems perverse.

Hamish Birchall