The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 6th August 2009 - LGA live music error key to policy

A leaked Local Government Association email, and the Facebook website of LGA Culture Committee chairman Chris White, suggest that his erroneous 80% gig venues claim was key to LGA opposition to new exemptions for small gigs.

As the government confirmed last month, the proportion of licensed venues authorised for live music is closer to 40%.

The email, which dates from April this year, outlines LGA strategy on licensing and live music. It leads with this statement under the heading 'Licensed Premises - LGA view':

'Of the 113,000 premises licensed for the sale of alcohol, around 91,000 already have live music as part of this licence. This number has risen by 8% in the last year. This leaves 22,000 premises that will benefit directly from the new Minor Variations process.'

91,000 is 80% of 113,000 and is almost certainly the source of Mr White's 80% claim. But this is a misreading of the DCMS alcohol and entertainment statistics: a confusion of the estimated number of venues where some form of entertainment is authorised with the total number of licensed premises. See 8th and 9th bullet point:

The LGA email goes on to list proposed actions, including the formation of a 'working party' with the Musicians Union and UK Music to 'develop a promotional implementation pack for councils to promote the 'minor variations' amendment. Interestingly, it concludes: 'A successful roll out of this work implies a burden on local authorities and would be contingent on DCMS addressing - to an extent - the present under funding of the licensing regime.'

Given that LGA promotion of 'minor variations' is now underway, perhaps DCMS has promised to address this funding question.

And what of Chris White, who has been campaigning vigorously on Facebook for re-election as Chair of the LGA Culture, Media and Sport Committee?

His public Facebook group 'Chris White for LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport Chair' includes a self-promoting Powerpoint-style slide headed 'Efforts and Achievements - Licensing'. The last bullet point states:

'Worked with DCMS and Feargal Sharkey to find a workable and safe solution to perceived problems in the Act for live music.'

If you truly believed that 80% of bars were licensed for live music you might wonder what musicians and the music industry were fussing about. But, apart from his fundamental statistical error, there is a patronising undertone. He insinuates misleadingly that live music generally is unsafe, and that the 'problems' are perceived, not real.

Of course, UK Music, for which Feargal Sharkey is chief executive, yesterday publicly distanced itself from the LGA live music strategy reported in the LGA article 'Striking the right note', and forced an LGA apology for misrepresenting its views:

Over the past year or more, Chris White has been responsible for leading the LGA strategy on live music and licensing. But given his careless misinterpretation of key statistics and the outrageous licensing restrictions on live music imposed by his own St Albans council, is he really a suitable candidate for chair of the LGA Culture, Media and Sport Committee?


Hamish Birchall