The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Wednesday 9th September 2009 - Without entertainment licensing schools might become venues warns DCMS

'If there was no restriction on entertainment events at schools, independent schools could simply operate as venues.'

This bizarre rationale for criminalising school concerts unless licensed was made in an email yesterday by DCMS licensing officer Ronnie Bridgett. He was responding to a query from Charlotte Collingwood, a singer based in Welwyn Garden City (see extracts below). This and other claims made in the email raise serious questions about the assumptions underlying the DCMS position on school entertainment, and wider questions about the credibility of the DCMS licensing team.

Under the Licensing Act 2003, school concerts open to the public are licensable, as are private concerts seeking to raise money for charities or other good causes. Even the provision of musical instruments for such events is licensable as the 'provision of entertainment facilities'. Earlier this year a school in Northamptonshire was threatened with prosecution if it went ahead with an unlicensed concert:

Strangely, however, by virtue of the Act's exemption for films used to instruct, educate or to advertise goods or services, the school could make a film of pupils playing live music and show this to the public without having to apply for a licence. [see Licensing Act 2003, Schedule 1, para 5:] Similarly, the school might consider broadcasting the performance on big screens in a local bar and that would be exempt.

In his email, Mr Bridgett suggests that schools are exempt from the licence fee. But this is not true of applications for Temporary Event Notices, which would be required for the majority of schools (most do not hold premises licences). TENs cost £21 each, up to a maximum of 12 per year (total cost: £252). The fee exemption to which Mr Bridgett refers only applies to applications for a full premises licence or club premises certificate that are solely for regulated entertainment, and only if the entertainment is 'for and on behalf of the purposes of the educational institution'. If alcohol is to be sold, or if the event falls outside that definition, the licence application fee has to be paid. See The Licensing Act 2003 (Fees) Regulations 2005, paragraph 9:

Mr Bridgett also suggests that live music in hospitals and retirement homes will not be licensable because the events 'will typically be for the residents, rather than the public...'. In fact, many such venues hold concerts on open days where the public are explicitly invited. Increasingly, as research shows the benefits of live music in this context, concerts are being put on in the public areas of hospitals. And schools routinely put on events in order to raise money for good causes, which are licensable even if they are private, ticket-only events.

In fact there is doubt about the key DCMS claim that 'independent schools could simply operate as venues'. This might be precluded in any case by the schools' charitable status. Ms Collingwood has written to the Independent Schools Association for advice on this point.

Extracts from DCMS email:

... Thank you for your email enquiry of 16 June in connection with live music and the Licensing Act 2003. I am sorry for the long delay in replying. Ministers have committed to looking at possible exemptions for low impact activities, but will want to consult on this and have not considered any proposals at present.

Schools and colleges are already exempt from paying a fee for a licence for regulated entertainment only (e.g. with no alcohol authorisation) if events are 'for and on behalf of the purposes of the educational institution'. If there was no restriction on entertainment events at schools, independent schools could simply operate as venues.

We do not have any evidence that there is a particular burden on hospitals and retirement homes. A musical event at such a place is unlikely to be licensable as it will typically be for residents, rather than the public, who don't make a separate payment for the event. Similarly, many events at schools are probably not licensable as they will be private events not intended to make a profit from the ticket price.

I should reiterate that the system for Temporary Event Notices (TENs) is very light touch and is certainly easier than the old regime were one would need a temporary public entertainment licence (PEL) which would often be at considerable cost and come with a number of standard conditions which often were inappropriate.

Licensing authorities do not have the right to object to the giving of a TEN. They only check that limits have not been exceeded. The Government rejected the Select Committee's recommendation on allowing Licensing Authorities to object to TENs.

I can confirm that we do not hold records of events that the police objected to on crime and disorder grounds....

I hope my email reply is helpful.

Yours sincerely
Ronnie Bridgett
Licensing Officer
Public Engagement and Recognition Unit (PERU)

8 September 2009


Hamish Birchall