The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Friday 24th November 2006 - London Councils lobby for live music premium in annual licence fee

The 'none in a bar rule' is one year old today.

In a lengthy DCMS press release yesterday, licensing minister Shaun Woodward said there were 'encouraging signs that the new licensing laws are having a positive impact' - but he was talking about alcohol. There was not one reference to live music.


In 2005, former licensing minister James Purnell said he thought the Act would be much better for live music (Jeremy Vine interview, BBC Radio 2, Tue 19 July 2005). However, so far there is no evidence to back this claim, which may account for the absence of live music in yesterday's DCMS announcement. Last month DCMS postponed publication of MORI's latest live music research, which focuses on small venues, fuelling speculation that the picture is not rosy.

The first round of DCMS/MORI live music research in 2004 found that most bars and restaurants had no live music at all. Across all venue categories, including church and community halls and members clubs, the research found only 19% of venues had live music twice or more per month. It also found that the more licensees knew about the new Licensing Act the less likely they were to host live music in future.

It was local authorities who lobbied, successfully, for the 'none in a bar rule'. Now London councils are lobbying the government to introduce an extra annual licence fee of up to £125 just for having live music.

The rationale, set out in a London Councils report to the DCMS licence fee review panel in June this year, is that live music is 'a plausible source of objections'. Live music is the only entertainment identified. Other factors identified as justifying extra annual fees include the size of the venue, whether it is mainly for alcohol consumption, and how late it opens. Complaints about live music, councils claim, can lead to extra costs for local authorities.  

['Alternative Approaches to Licensing Fees', A paper by Local Government Futures Ltd, for the Association of London Government, June 2006, para 87. See London Councils 'fairer fees' press release, 19 September 2006:

Scroll down for the link to the alternative fees report. ]

Curiously, there is no mention of complaints about recorded music, or disorder quite often associated with big screen sport in bars. And what about the phrase  'plausible source of complaint'?  Does this mean they think live music may lead to extra enforcement costs, or is there hard evidence that it does?

Yesterday I asked several London councils whether they kept noise complaint data that discriminates between complaints about noisy people outside licensed premises, complaints about live music, and complaints about recorded music. Only Westminster and Camden responded promptly.

A spokesperson for Westminster said: 'Complaints about noise from music being played in licensed premises are not recorded separately but come under the classification "commercial noise" . Also, the genre of music is not recorded separately. However, comments about a particular premises can be recorded and this allows us to deal with establishments we believe may cause problems.'

Camden said their data did discriminate between complaints about live and recorded music - but could not produce statistics at short notice.

I then checked with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the department responsible for noise legislation. It told me: ' The only data that Defra keeps is on fixed penalty notices issued for night noise offence under the Noise Act 1996 - night noise from domestic premises between 11pm and 7am. This will shortly be extended to cover night noise from licensed premises.' 

DEFRA recommended that I check the noise complaint data held by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). But the CIEH data doesn't have a category for complaints about music, live or recorded. See: .

So, it would seem there are still no national statistics about noise complaints from live music or recorded music.  Local data is likely to be patchy.  In any case, the position is unlikely to have changed since 2003 when residents associations identified noisy people outside licensed premises as their major cause of concern.  T he final report of the DCMS licence review panel is imminent.  Only when it is published will we know whether London Councils have succeeded in their bid to charge extra for having live music.

DCMS Licensing Fee Review Panel info:

Hamish Birchall