The Live Music Forum, created by the Licensing Act 2003 and chaired by Feargal Sharkey, has issued a call to arms to the music industry and fans alike: act now to help exploit a rare opportunity to expand live music in the UK. On 7 February 2005, an unprecedented six-month period begins, in which licences for putting on live music will, at least theoretically, be easier to obtain provided action is taken now to ensure that proper guidelines are put in place locally. According to the Culture Minister, this amounts to the “biggest social change and reform of our leisure industry … in 40 years”.
We are now half way through a pre-transitional period (ending in February) during which licensing authorities must prepare, consult on and publish local licensing policy statements. With these statements, local authorities effectively create their own guidelines for granting licences (in conjunction with the “Guidance Issued Under Section 182 of the Act” which aims to provide best practice and greater consistency of approach and which seeks to promote a “thriving and safe night-time economy” and “enhance people’s lives by providing important opportunities for the enjoyment of leisure time”). The Guidance and local guidelines should, ideally, create a balance between the promotion of culture and community, and public safety.
Next year’s expected flood of live music licence applications must be decided with regard to the national guidance and to the authority’s own statement of licensing policy. According to the Live Music Forum, it is therefore essential that each individual “local statement” be drafted in such a way as to allow the maximum scope for granting licences for more and better venues to host live music throughout the UK.
The Live Music Forum is urging all publicans, promoters, lawyers, managers, event organisers and community activists to seize this rare opportunity to encourage, foster and enable local live music by ensuring that their local authority is making good progress toward publishing their statement and by ensuring that, before final publication in February, the statement properly implements the national guidelines and supports and encourages live music, as far as possible, in line with the spirit and letter of the Act. The Guidance itself suggests that local authorities should “consult local performers, performers’ unions (such as the Musicians’ Union and Equity) and entertainers involved in the cultural life of the local community”, though it seems likely that at least some local authorities will need encouragement to make such approaches.
Perhaps the key assistance needed from interested lawyers and industry figures is advice on handling the complaints of anticipated objectors to licence applications and liaising with probable objectors such as police, developers, community and neighbourhood groups and local residents.
The national Guidance document can be found online at http://www.culture.gov.uk/ though the document is very long and it may be more practical to go straight to relevant sections such as:
- Chapter 3 Statements of Licensing Policy – which provides guidance on the development and preparation of local statements and the core content which should be added. Notably, section 3.58 “Live Music, Dancing and Theatre” features highly unusual UK legislative drafting such as “Performances of live music and dancing are central to the development of cultural diversity and vibrant and exciting communities where artistic freedom of expression is a fundamental right and greatly valued” and “the absence of cultural provision in any area can itself lead to the young people being diverted into anti-social activities that damage communities and the young people involved themselves”.
- Chapter 5 Premises Licences – which provides advice about best practice for the administration of the processes for issuing, varying, transferring and reviewing premises licences and other associated procedures.
Feargal Sharkey was appointed Chair of the Live Music Forum in January 2004 with a remit to take forward the ministerial commitment to maximise the take-up of reforms in the Licensing Act 2003, relating to the performance of live music generally, and to monitor and evaluate the impact of the Act on the performance of live music.