The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Wednesday 19th August 2009 - Petition reaches 6000 - desperation at DCMS

The Number 10 live music petition calling on the Prime Minister to implement new entertainment licensing exemptions for small gigs reached 6,000 signatures this morning:

In just over three weeks it has risen to 23rd in the list of over 5,000 petitions on the Number 10 website. But many more signatures are needed if the petition is to make an impact on the press and politicians. If you haven't already signed, please consider signing and circulating the petition link.

Meanwhile, there are increasing signs of desperation at DCMS.

Last Friday, 14 August, The Publican magazine published an online article headlined 'LGA forced to apologise over live music stats'. This highlighted the LGA's retraction of their mistaken 80% live music venues claim, now reduced to 55%:

The first reader to post a comment was one Adam Cooper:

'The 2007 report found that 76% of pubs and clubs have a licence allowing them to stage live music, even though less than half (44% in 2004) historically staged live music. Don't trust me, read the report: '

This comment, including a link to the 2007 British Market Research Board survey, could be construed as giving some comfort to the LGA. But who is Adam Cooper, and how reliable is the 76% statistic?

It turns out that Adam Cooper is Dr Adam C Cooper, Head of Research at DCMS. I recognised the name from email correspondence we had last year over this very BMRB survey - the one which headlined with the finding that there had been a 5% fall in live gigs since the Licensing Act came into force. But even when I disclosed his identity in a comment on The Publican article, he did not confirm his job title. He defended his response, adding: 'I do work at DCMS, but nothing I say represents the Department's official stance - I am acting only as an interested member of the public.'

Once again this raises questions about potential conflict with the Civil Service Code of Conduct which centres on four principles: honesty, impartiality, objectivity and integrity. This point was made in comments posted by two other readers of The Publican article. Is it ethical for a senior civil servant to post comments on a public article about government research in which he is closely involved, without disclosing at the outset his close involvement in that research? Was he authorised to do this by ministers? Personally, I believe Dr Cooper is in breach of the code and I have made a formal complaint to DCMS.

But this doesn't mean that the 76% claim should be ignored. Dr Cooper clearly believes it is a reliable figure. The first objection, however, must be that the BMRB survey is two years out of date. Secondly, as I pointed out in The Publican, more than half of interviewees knew little or nothing about the legislation, which tends to undermine confidence in their knowlege of the premises licence. The BMRB questionnaire did not ask whether the interviewee was actually responsible for the licence. Indeed, it found that about 40% interviewees were probably not working at their venue in 2005 when old licences had to be converted to the new ones. A further caveat is that the licensing arrangements in about 20% of all pubs are handled centrally by the managing company. Lastly, even if a licence has a live music permission, the survey did not look at licence conditions, such as the restrictions on performer numbers and music genres found in St Albans. If live music licence conditions are not implemented, putting on live music remains illegal.

All in all, then, the BMRB 76% does not look like a robust statistic. DCMS could have established the percentage far more reliably by searching local authority public licensing registers, as the St Albans group did. These record not only entertainment permissions but also licence conditions.

So, we're back with 55% as the best estimate for the overall proportion of premises licensed to sell alcohol that are also licensed for live music. This is derived from the more recent DCMS alcohol and entertainment statistics, sourced from local authorities - although even this figure is about 18 months old.


Hamish Birchall