The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Wednesday 31st March 2010 - LGA response to DCMS reveals live music paranoia

The Local Government Association and its partner LACORS ('promoting quality regulation') have published their joint response to the DCMS consultation on an entertainment licensing exemption for small gigs:

The consultation closed last Friday, 26 March. Predictably, the proposed exemption is rejected by LGA/Lacors as 'unworkable' and 'disproportionate'. But the document includes one notable concession: 'The LGA Group does support exemptions for schools and hospitals...'. It then wrongly claims that these venues 'were not previously required to hold a live music licence.'

Under the previous entertainment licensing regime, public performances of live music were licensable in such places, and indeed almost anywhere else - as they are today. Private charity fund-raising gigs were exempt, however - unlike today.

But even this LGA concession is qualified: 'We will work with government and partners to develop balanced exemption criteria.' How gracious. The response continues in paranoid mode:

'A poll of council licensing officers carried out by the LGA Group found that 9 out of 10 think the exemption would lead to an increase in complaints about noise and nuisance. More than half said they expected the increase to be considerable.' [Key Messages]

No mention, of course, that noise nuisance is already regulated by separate legislation.

'Councils' role is to balance the needs of the whole community, including local businesses and local residents. Opposing this exemption is not about saying "no" to live music. Councils want to be able to say "yes", confident that local people have been considered as part of the process.' [Key Messages]

'... the right of councillors to make decisions relating to local licensed premises is an important feature of local democracy and therefore the proposal may have constitutional significance in that it undermines local decision making.' [Response point 17]

It is true then: councils want to micro-manage virtually all local live music, and they see this as their right.

One particularly batty LGA proposal is that premises already licensed for live music should be excluded from any exemption (response point 9). Many already licensed venues are subject to unjustifiably restrictive conditions, including 2- and 3-performer limits. If implemented, this LGA idea would create two classes of venue based on an arbitrary distinction: one subject to many unnecessary restrictions; the other free of those restrictions and with a potentially commercial advantage. This would inevitably lead to conflict and legal challenges.

The abiding impression created by the LGA is that relaxing licensing control for small gigs would unleash the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. But no evidence of the imminent stampede is produced.

Surprisingly, other evidence often cited by the LGA is also conspicuous by its absence. This is the DCMS 'evidence' that live music is 'thriving'. Until now, citing dodgy DCMS live music statistics has been a favourite LGA lobbying tactic. Could it be that the LGA knows something we don't about the UK Statistics Authority investigation into recent DCMS live music claims?

The LGA response is .... more research! Yes, they call on the government to 'commission further detailed research' which would establish, among other things:

'How much unmet latent demand for live music in small venues there is (amongst the public, performers and venue owners)' (response point 14).

It is not clear what contribution this knowledge would make to the debate. Is the LGA is suggesting that if such demand is low, it would reinforce their case against a small gigs exemption, and justify a regulatory regime that criminalises the unlicensed provision of one musician in a bar or restaurant, even if there are no complaints?

Of course this LGA submission does not speak for all, or indeed any, individual local authority. It is based on the view of a relatively small number of licensing officers and a few officials within the LGA and Lacors.

In fact, there is support within some local authorities for a small gigs exemption, as this City of York council response demonstrates (see point 7):$


Hamish Birchall