The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Friday 14th November 2008 - Westminster council suggests exemption for unamplified gigs

Westminster City Council has hinted that it might support an entertainment licensing exemption for gigs up to 100 capacity, but only if unamplified, and only in premises already licensed for alcohol.

The revelation follows publication yesterday by the Culture Committee of submissions into their Licensing Act inquiry:

The 54 documents come from a wide range of organisations and individuals, including the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Local Government Association (LGA), the Musicians Union, Jazz Services, Equity, the Magistrates Association, CAMRA, Alcohol Concern, the British Beer and Pub Association, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport itself.

As a self-selecting group, it is unsurprising that the majority of those that address the impact of the Act on live music conclude that the legislation is harmful and recommend deregulation in one form or another. Perhaps surprisingly, however, some local authority officers share that view:

'The recent Live Music Forum report highlights the problems experienced by the music industry since the implementation of the Act and is to be commended,' writes Tony Bartlett, Licensing Manager at Dover District Council. 'The poor drafting of the Act is as a result of a failure to fully understand the activities sought to be licensed and, perversely, a failure to understand those activities that are sought to be exempted.'

However, he also suggests the reintroduction of the two-performer exemption - an option that few musicians could support.

Notwithstanding Feargal Sharkey's concerns expressed earlier this week about police interference in gigs, the ACPO submission does not mention music, focusing on alcohol-related issues.

Predictably, the LGA and Westminster City Council remain in denial: '... we are not aware that the Act has had any significant impact, either positive or negative, relating specifically to live music' (LGA); and 'The experience in Westminster is that the 2003 Act, in comparison with previous regimes, does not restrict the provision of live music in the course of promoting the licensing objectives. (Westminster City Council).

But it is Westminster that provides an intruiging insight into the sort of opposition faced by the government in its consideration of further entertainment licensing exemptions for small gigs:

'Exemptions from licensing should only be considered in exceptional cases taking into account the risks which may be associated with the failure to promote the licensing objectives. For this reason, we believe no venue or event should be exempted from the requirement to be licensed for musical entertainment if it is unlicensed for the sale of alcohol, or provides for an audience greater than 100, or uses amplified musical instruments, or is provided outside a building. Where any exemption from the requirement to be licensed for musical entertainment is permitted, the premises should remain subject to review procedures in the 2003 Act, and the licensing authority able to remove the exemption by modifying licence conditions.'


Hamish Birchall