The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 6th November 2009 - DCMS suggest small gig problems all in the mind

So why did licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe announce the dramatic u-turn on possible licensing exemptions for small gigs?

Was it because the government had finally accepted the evidence of the Live Music Forum, UK Music, the all-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Equity, the Musicians Union, and campaigners, that the Licensing Act is harming small gigs?

Not a bit of it. A close reading of what the minister actually said, and a recent DCMS letter, make clear that DCMS does not now accept this evidence. The new line is that problems are perceived, not real.

Only a few months ago, government spokesperson Lord Carter of Barnes almost managed to admit that they had got it wrong:

'... the Government recognise that there is evidence to suggest that small-scale, informal gigs may have been negatively affected by the Act.'
[Minor variations debate, House of Lords, 15 June 2009]

But during the 22nd October Westminster Hall licensing debate Sutcliffe gave this reason for the decision to consult on a new exemption:

'My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State [Ben Bradshaw] and I understand that many people who are passionate about live music are sincere in their view that some small events are being deterred or restricted because of unnecessary regulation.'

And a letter from the DCMS licensing team dated 23rd October offers this version:

'... we recognise that many people still feel that small events are being deterred or restricted because of unnecessary regulation.'

These statements could hardly be more patronising. They demonstrate the intense hubris that infects the DCMS licensing department, and an almost maniacal determination to conceal the truth.

The facts are simple: the Licensing Act 2003 extended entertainment licensing control for live music to thousands of venues and events that had never previously required such licensing. For the first time performances on public land were caught, as were private charity fund-raising events, and one or two musicians in bars and restaurants. Inevitably that means that thousands of places have had to make, and in most cases pay for, 'new' applications for permission to host live music - applications that DCMS trots out to the press and to Parliament as evidence of improvement.

Brown paper bag anyone?


Hamish Birchall