The Live Music Forum
Friday 30th December 2005 - Musicians Union 'fairly confident the regulations have not had an adverse effect'
The Musicians' Union 'is fairly confident the [new licensing] regulations have not had an adverse effect', reported last Wednesday's Guardian. ['Circus performers get caught in the act', Mark Honigsbaum, Guardian, p13, 28.12.05; http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/news/story/0,,1674333,00.html ]
The reason for the union's position was not clear. Their view was reported in the second of only two sentences refering to the union in a full-page, wide-ranging article examining the potential effect on circuses, street arts, music, and Punch and Judy. In the preceding sentence, Honigsbaum reported that 'Last week the Musicians' Union sent questionnaires to all 30,000 members to gauge the effect of the law change [sic] on pubs and other venues that used to host live music.' The deadline for MU members to complete and return these questionnaires is 31 January 2006. It is, I suppose, possible that sufficient numbers had been completed and returned to inform the union's position as published in the Guardian on 28 December.
But although the questionnaire is designed in such a way that it could reveal a rise or fall in the number of live music venues locally and nationally, there are problems when it comes to establishing the reasons for any change. Of the survey's 14 questions only 5 are licensing-related, and only one, it seems to me, could of itself establish a connection between the new licensing laws and a fall in gig numbers. This is Q12: 'Of the venues that have stopped staging live music, how many previously benefited from the old 'two in a bar' rule, i.e. they didn't hold a Public Entertainment Licence but regularly staged soloists/duos?'.
Two of the three other licensing-related questions ask whether members know of venues that have started or stopped promoting live music this year (Qs10 and 11). They do not ask whether this is as a result of the licensing changes - and there are many other reasons why venues might start or stop hosting live music. If the results when analysed suggest either an overall rise or fall in gig venues, it will be impossible to say with certainty whether this is due to the new licensing law. To do that would require additional information directly from the venues themselves. The questionnaire does ask for the venues' details, so in theory it should be possible to find out why they decided for or against live music - but only by further investigation.
When I worked for the union on this issue, it was on the assumption that the executive committee and the senior officers understood that over many years entertainment licensing had led to a significant decline in live gig venues, and that we all wanted licensing reform to result in a significant increase in potential opportunities for employment. If the new Act has simply preserved the status quo ante, that to my mind, justifies the revival of a proactive campaign for legislative reform. MU members could reasonably ask what their union's policy on licensing will be if indeed it is true that the Licensing Act has had 'no adverse effect'. I would be interested to learn what replies they get.
by Hamish Birchall