The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 13th August 2009 - LGA defiant despite live music stats blunder

The Local Government Association will not review their live music policy, despite conceding that they had grossly over-estimated the number of venues already licensed for live music, according to a report in The Stage yesterday:

The 'miscalculation' first appeared in the public domain in an LGA article entitled 'Striking the right note', published on 18 July in a magazine for local authorities called 'first', and online. In that piece LGA licensing spokesperson Chris White said: 'Around 80% of premises where alcohol is sold are already licensed to put on live music, and many do so with great success. But musicians have found that some premises have not got a live music licence yet.' The implication was that if there was any problem at all, it was relatively minor.

But the 80% was a huge over-estimate. Under pressure, the LGA published an apology, changed Chris White's quote and reduced the gig venue estimate to 55%:

It now seems, however, that even the 55% is a worthless statistic. The DCMS survey on which it is based did not distinguish between categories of venue, did not look at live music licence conditions (which must be implemented for gigs to be legal) nor did it measure actual live music provision:

We cannot know what proportion of the 55% are specialist music venues, let alone what proportion are pubs, bars or any other premises type. This was confirmed in a recent government response to a question from Lord Clement-Jones (see below).

With unintended irony, the corrected LGA article still includes this comment from Musicians Union representative Horace Trubridge: 'There was a big furore and a lot of misinformation spread about the Licensing Act.'

Despite all this, an LGA spokesperson told The Stage:

'It [the 80% claim] changing makes absolutely no difference. We are still fundamentally involved in working with councils so they understand how incidental music works, to make sure there is good communication between authorities and licensed premises so they understand in what way live music can be staged. There was absolutely no deliberate attempt to deceive anyone. It hasn't been used in any public documents, it was used in one background briefing, which has turned out to be incorrect. It was no way a basis of the policy, nor has it been publicly used to justify it.'

In fact, this statement is itself misleading. The 80% claim was made in articles in the public domain, and the miscalculation on which it was based headlined the LGA strategy to promote the £89 'minor variation' process. The 'one background briefing' was entitled 'Licensed premises - LGA view'.

The 80% claim may not have been used explicitly to justify the LGA's opposition to new entertainment licensing exemptions for small venues, but Chris White's quote and comments on his Facebook pages strongly suggest that he believed the problems for live music were not serious, and more perceived than real.

In any case, the new 55% estimate tells us nothing about bars and restaurants whose main business is not live music. DCMS has not surveyed live music by venue type, or actual provision of live music, since the British Market Research Board study of 2007. On Monday 27 July 2009, in response to questions tabled by Lord Clement-Jones, the government confirmed that they no longer hold this information:

'... The [alcohol and entertainment] statistical collection identifies how many premises have permission, in the form of a premises licence or club premises certificate, to put on regulated entertainment, including live music. However, it is not known how many different types of premises (e.g. student unions) have obtained an appropriate permission to cover live performances of music...'

[Reply from Lord Davies of Oldham to questions from Lord Clement-Jones HL5228, 5239 and 5230, not yet available online.]


Hamish Birchall