The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Wednesday 2nd September2009 - Government more afraid of the LGA than of Libya

Apparently the government has more to lose if it falls out with the Local Government Association over Licensing Act exemptions for small gigs, than by falling out with Libya, which has the largest oil reserves in Africa.

Any lingering doubt that the government has gone a bit loopy must be dispelled by the news that, while they are now publishing reams of hitherto confidential material about sensitive negotiations with Libya, they are at the same time fighting tooth and nail to keep secret their discussions with the Local Government Association about small gigs exemptions from the Licensing Act.

On 27 August, DCMS refused a Freedom of Information Act request, submitted on 18th June, to disclose information about the negotiations which had been going on in 2008 and early 2009.

Government promises to consult on new Licensing Act exemptions for live music date from late 2007, and were a response to urgent warnings from the Musicians Union and Live Music Forum that the Licensing Act was harming small gigs. In May this year those warnings were echoed by the all-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee. After taking evidence from all sides during their Licensing Act inquiry, the Committee came to the same conclusion and recommended exemptions for venues up to 200 capacity, and for one or two unamplified performers. The Committee also called for the controversial Met Police Form 696 to be scrapped.

Ministers repeated their promise to consult on small gigs exemptions throughout 2008 and early into 2009. But on 15 June 2009 the government said they were postponing any such consultation for a further year in order to evaluate their new 'minor variations' process. This is the £89 application form which DCMS itself warned would fail in many cases (because live music would be considered a potential noise problem). The minor variations process offers no benefit whatever to venues that are not already licensed under the Act. Typically these include hospitals, care homes, and schools. See House of Lords debate on minor variations:

DCMS justified their refusal to publish their small gigs exemption negotiations on the grounds that the public interest in disclosure was outweighed by a need to keep discussions about the formulation of government policy private (apparently covered by section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act). The assumption is that those involved may be so hurt by public disclosure of their views that future negotiations will be jeopardised.


Hamish Birchall