The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Friday 8th December 2006 - DCMS small venue claims

Firstly, a correction and apology: In yesterday's press release, I was wrong to suggest that DCMS used the 2004 MORI live music data when contrasting the position under the old and new licensing regimes. In fact the comparisons made yesterday in the press release were derived from questions in the latest survey.

Secondly,  this doesn't alter the generally misleading nature of the DCMS headline claims.

For example: 'a quarter (25 per cent) of premises now have a licence to put on music for the first time' .  As I pointed out, under the old regime, all premises with an alcohol licence ('justices on licence') could have one or two live musicians whenever they were open. The justices on licence was, in effect, a licence for one or two musicians - without it you could not even have one performer.

If DCMS meant premises that did not previously hold an alcohol licence or a public entertainment licence, they might be on safer ground - but no such distinction is made in the press release.  If DCMS included members clubs, the claim would be disingenous because under the old regime such venues were generally exempt from the requirement to hold public entertainment licences.

The full DCMS/MORI report includes other disingenuous claims, such as: 'Some of those applying for a licence voluntarily added conditions including restrictions on the numbers of musicians they would have performing at one time.' [Footnote 7, p15, 'Licensing Act 2003 - The Experience of Smaller Establishments in applying for live music authorisation', December 2006]

The full context of these 'voluntary' arrangements is not discussed. In many cases, this option represented the least risk of local objections, local authority conditions, or both. It is also likely that licensing officers of the local authority 'negotiated' the two (or three) in a bar limit with the licensee, or their legal representative. This appeared to be the case at The Hub in Regent's Park - which has a 'three in a bar' limit, and must fit a noise limiter, among other things. The venue is about half a kilometre from the nearest house.

Venues that had PELs

The proportion of venues that DCMS now claim used to hold a public entertainment licence (PEL) is suspiciously high. The MORI survey of 2004 suggested that about 33% of venues had PELs (p13, 'A survey of live music staged in England and Wales in 2003/4', September 2004). That figure was surprising in itself - only two years before, the Home Office estimated that only 5% of licensed premises also held a PEL. DCMS claim their new research shows 45% had PELs before the new regime came into force, a rise of about 12%. Both estimates cannot both be right - unless, perhaps, licensees were reporting both occasional and annual PELs. If that is the explanation, it could mean that a thorough re-interpretation of the data is required. There is a fundamental difference between an ongoing live music permission (annual PEL), and one-off PELs for the occasional gig.

Estimates of venue populations

+This latest survey apparently used the Valuation Office Agency ( ) to source estimates of the total number of venues in each venue category.  By contrast, the 2004 survey used a variety of different sources, including the British Beer & Pub Association (pubs), the British Hospitality Association (hotels), and the British Entertainment and Dance Association (small clubs).

The different sources give rise to as yet unexplained discrepancies between the two surveys. For example, the 2004 research estimated a total of 20,000 hotels and inns in England and Wales, accounting for 14.6% of the total estimated venue population across all categories (151,176).   In the latest survey, the estimated total number of hotels and inns has dwindled to 7,844, less than half the previous estimate. This category now accounts for only 6% of the estimated total of all venues surveyed (135,704) - and yet the sample proportion (226) is 11%, little different from the 2004 survey.

No doubt more anomalies will emerge.

Hamish Birchall