The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 18th March 2011 - Information Commissioner blocks publication of DCMS/LGA live music talks

The Information Commissioner has upheld a refusal by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to disclose in full correspondence with the Local Government Association concerning a small gigs entertainment licensing exemption.
The LGA has consistently opposed an exemption for small scale performances of live music, implicitly endorsing a regime that criminalises the mildest of live music while going easy on DJs and canned entertainment, on the grounds of public safety and noise risks.
The ICO decision dated 7th March, reference FS50304461, is available on the ICO website:
Although running to 19 pages and 88 numbered paragraphs, the decision boils down to this: full disclosure would embarrass the LGA.
Why? Apparently because their officials expressed '... frank and candid opinions regarding the proposed licensing exemption' [para 59] and 'premature disclosure' would '... deny officials the space they need to consider the relevant issues without fear that their opinions could be subject to ridicule in the process.' [para 61]
The Commissioner also notes DCMS assertions that some of my licensing updates 'contained criticisms of a personal nature of individual civil servants.' [para 33]  This allegation was one of the grounds put forward by DCMS against full disclosure of their LGA material - a fear that this could lead to officials being targeted for criticism although 'not strictly accountable for the policy decision in question'.
In my view, none of the licensing circulars cited contain any criticisms of a personal nature: see  [click on Hamish Birchall Articles] - 9 July 2009, 14 July 2009, 7 August 2009, 9 September 2009 and 23 April 2010.
In 'Musicians in thrall to caterers', 9 July 2009, I pointed out that LGA music licensing policy officials Mark Du Val and Charlotte Meller had a food science background, highlighting the irony for professional musicians (for some reason there is a long history of uneasy relations between musicians and caterers at gigs).  I implied that food science was not the best qualification for developing live music licensing policy.
The LGA is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, its officers are not publicly elected or accountable.  Many draw high salaries sourced ultimately from the public purse. For years its opposition to relaxation of a licensing regime that criminalises the mere provision of unlicensed live music, where a licence is required, has prevented any chance of reform.
The LGA has never, to the best of my knowledge, explained in clear terms where subsisting safety and noise nuisance legislation is in its view inadequate to regulate small gigs.  Their opposition to reform therefore seems to be based more on prejudice than rational argument.
The fact that this opposition has been expressed 'in a forthright manner' to DCMS [ICO decision, para 59] tends to reinforce concerns that prejudice and resistance to change underpins their position.
It is clearly in the public interest to understand why a small clique of unelected local government officers appear to be so emotional about maintaining very strict licensing control over live music.  For that reason I will be appealing the ICO decision.

Hamish Birchall