The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Monday 3rd August 2009 - LGA inflates live music stats

'Around 80% of premises where alcohol is sold are already licensed to put on live music, and many do so with great success.'

This suspiciously optimistic and reassuring claim was made last month by Local Government Association licensing spokesperson Chris White in an article published on the LGA website:

Mr White's re-election as Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Board at the LGA is expected to be announced later today. He is also a Lib Dem councillor in St Albans - a signficant connection, but more of that later.

There is a small problem with his key statistic. It sounds too good to be true, and it is. Mr White's approach seems to have been: think of a number and double it. In other words, his 80% figure is complete twaddle and highly misleading to boot. But we should not be surprised. It is part of the LGA jobsworth campaign to keep the provision of musical instruments a potential criminal offence, to resist exemptions for small gigs, and to promote - with the Musicians' Union lamely in tow - the £89 'minor variations' process by way of an alternative.

The only half-reliable source for Mr White's estimate is the DCMS statistical bulletin for alcohol and entertainment licences. The most up-to-date of these was published in October 2008:

Indeed, this was the source for a ministerial answer of 1st July 2009 which puts Mr White's figure closer to 40%:

Lord Colwyn: To ask Her Majesty's Government what proportion of public houses and restaurants are licensed under the Licensing Act 2003 for performances of live music. [HL4466]

Lord Carter of Barnes: The latest Alcohol Entertainment and Late Night Refreshment Licensing Bulletin reports as of 31 March 2008 there were an estimated 80,500 premises licences with live music provisions (around 41 per cent of all premises licences). There were also an estimated 10,900 club premises certificates with live music provisions (around 62 per cent of all club premises certificates).
[See Table A, p12]

Lord Carter's answer didn't actually address the specific categories of pubs and restaurants, and he didn't cite the bulletin's estimated totals for premises licences (195,500) and club premises certificates (17,500). The big difference means that averaging the two live music percentages only results in a small increase to 43% overall with live music provisions.

Even if you exclude venues where alcohol is not sold, the figure would be closer to 55% - but that approach is itself unreliable because there are places not licensed for alcohol that are licensed for entertainment.

If the proportion of live music venues were genuinely 80% the government would be publicising this widely - but of course they are not.

And what of Chris White's St Albans connection? It seems that in his own backyard about 50% of pubs and restaurants are licensed for live music - slightly better than the national average, but nowhere near 80%.

Far worse than that, however, are the licence conditions imposed on these venues, ironically by the Lib Dem run St Albans council. Licence conditions have never been nationally surveyed by DCMS. Perhaps now we know why.

A group of live music campaigners based in St Albans, calling itself the Welwyn Hatfield Live Music Forum, has carried out the first survey of such conditions by trawling through the council's public licence register. The results are damning. Of 85 pubs in St Albans with a live music permission, they found:
.. 30 have restrictions on the number of musicians who can perform

.. 45 pubs have restriction on the regularity or frequency of musical performances

.. 4 have a restriction on the genres of music which can be performed

.. 1 pub has to display a suitable and conspicuous notice advising the residents of forthcoming live music events.

One event has a restriction on indoors morris dancing - almost certainly an unlawful condition. Morris dancing and unamplified live music enjoys an outright exemption under Schedule 1, para 11 of the Licensing Act 2003.

Given that this is the first survey of its kind, it is highly unlikely that St Albans is unique in these restrictions. The chances are that a range of similar licence conditions would be found in a significant proportion of local authorities in England and Wales.

Copies of the full Welwyn Hatfield Live Music Forum report can be obtained by emailing a request to:


Hamish Birchall