The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 23rd April 2010 - Evidence that DCMS misled small gigs exemption responses

Evidence has emerged that DCMS use of Alcohol and Entertainment licence statistics has misled respondents to the public consultation on an exemption from entertainment licensing for small gigs.

Environmental Protection UK (EPUK), formerly the National Society for Clean Air, has submitted a strongly negative response to the consultation:

It is based in part on a misinterpretation of DCMS Alcohol and Entertainment licence statistics - an almost inevitable result of the way the statistics were presented by DCMS within the consultation.

In para 4.3 of the consultation document, published on 31 December 2009, DCMS reported that local authorities and the police believed '... there was no statistical evidence that the Act was restricting live music', and that LACORS believed that 'very few applications for live music were refused. The Government's Licensing Statistics bulletin 2008 showed that the number of authorisations for live music had risen by 7% during 2007/8 and although this did not reflect the number of live music events staged in practice, it was nevertheless an indicator that live music was thriving.'

In para 4.4 DCMS describes these as 'very serious objections', and the reason the government had previously deferred this consultation.

By this devious means, DCMS avoided making such claims directly but implied misleadingly that they had considerable merit. Thus DCMS gave weight to the 'live music thriving' interpretation of the licence statistics, when they knew that no such conclusion could be drawn.

DCMS made no attempt within the consultation to prevent such a misinterpretation. Nor did they mention their own evidence that live music was not thriving: the BMRB live music survey of 2007 that found a 5% fall in live gigs since the Licensing Act had come into force.

On 28 January 2010, in the report 'Changes in Live Music 2005-2009', DCMS acknowledged that the Alcohol and Entertainment licence statistics could not be used to draw conclusions about the state of live music:

'It is hard to say conclusively that the number of premises with a live music licence indicates more live music venues or more live music gigs...' [updated March/April 2010, p2]

Unsurprisingly, this escaped the attention of EPUK who took the DCMS bait when responding to the small gigs exemption consultation:

'The Department's statistical bulletin suggests that the number of licences granted for live music continues to grow, contradicting the claim that the Act is inhibiting applications'. [response to DCMS Consultation Question 1, p1]

It seems EPUK was unaware that the Licensing Act had dramatically increased the scope of entertainment licensing, making increased applications inevitable, or that licence conditions may restrict or even prevent live music.

Their response also suggests that in their view live music is doing fine, and this is a key reason for opposing any new exemption. Apparently they were ignorant of the DCMS caveat about licence statistics, and of the DCMS/BMRB survey. Right at the start of their response they state: '... there is no evidence that live music performance is in decline' [EPUK 'Summary View', p1].

Why would DCMS want to influence their own consultation in this underhand way? My own view is that the senior civil servants most closely involved are not acting neutrally, but are in fact active opponents of relaxation of entertainment licensing for live music.

There are also good reasons why DCMS might want to exaggerate the success of the music industry and play down the flaws in the Licensing Act. The government is anxious to be perceived as switched on to live music and a friend of the industry - particularly with a general election imminent. This plays well to younger voters. And senior DCMS licensing team civil servants, on whom ministers rely for briefings about the working of the Licensing Act and the credibility of their live music research, are fighting to preserve their reputations.


Hamish Birchall