Live events sector
A recent House of Lords investigation in the United Kingdom’s Parliament has seen leading figures from across the live music industry calling for a change in live event licensing to make it easier to stage events and help the live sector thrive. At the heart of the debate was a proposed amendment to licensing law which would ensure cultural benefits to the community are considered by local authorities when they make decisions about the award of music licences.
Paul Latham, chair of the UK Live Music Group, Alex Mann, live music official of the Musicians’ Union, and Mark Davyd, chief executive of the Music Venue Trust, gave evidence to a select committee proposing the introduction of a new “objective” in the decision-making process which would take account of the positive cultural impact of staging an event. At present authorities are not obliged to consider the wider benefits of music and entertainment in the community and instead focus on the negative impact of applications. These are the four licensing objectives under the 2003 Licensing Act: The prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and protection of children from harm.
Mr Latham, who is also chief operating officer of Live Nation, said: ‘As leading venue operators across the UK we strive to bring a ‘best in class’ operation to all our venues and that includes mutual learnings throughout our venue portfolio. At all times we try to work progressively with the respective local authorities to share our learnings. Unfortunately not all local authorities are like-minded and their interpretations of the Licensing Act are not always helpful, or consistent, which is frustrating and creates obstacles for venue operators at all levels.”
Mr Davyd said: ‘Licensing is just one of many areas of the legal framework around grassroots music venues that is contributing to their rapid decline. In the case of licensing, Music Venue Trust is not asking that a special case be made for grassroots venues. Rather, we believe a further push to support the intent of the Licensing Act 2003 – and the subsequent Live Music Act 2012 – is required so these culturally and socially important spaces achieve parity in the manner in which the licensing framework handles and supports them. We want to see grassroots music venues acknowledged and respected alongside theatres and arts centres as spaces that are vital to the health, wealth and happiness of the UK.”
Mr Mann said: “Since the introduction of the Licensing Act in 2003 the MU has maintained that live music should not be licensed and remains committed to ensuring that if licensing conditions are to be placed upon venues, then they are for the good, not the detriment of the venue. Our members rely heavily on venues being able to remain open in order to provide places to perform and develop their craft, not to mention the crucial role that live music plays within our communities and cultural heritage. The Licensing Act’s existing objectives specifically made regulation of live music a public order issue, so we feel that a better balance is needed here, which acknowledges and reflects the cultural impact of live music.”
But the amendment was ultimately withdrawn by its sponsor Lord (Tim) Clement-Jones following opposition from the government. Spokeswoman Baroness (Carlyn) Chisholm argued:
“Requiring licensing authorities to consider the provision of social or cultural activities would run in contradiction to the other licensing objectives, all of which are aimed at harm reduction”
Not that Lord Clent Jones amendment lacked support: the Earl of Clancarty quoted Mark Davyd, calling his wish to see “grassroots music venues acknowledged and respected alongside theatres and art centres as spaces that are vital to the health, wealth and happiness of the UK” a “laudable aim”. Baroness Chisholm expressed her support for the Licensing Act in its current form, arguing it provides for a “presumption that licensing authorities will grant a licence in respect to an application, with appropriate conditions, unless there are strong concerns in terms of the licensing objectives”. Lord Clement-Jones, before withdrawing the amendment spoke of his wish that “the drip-drip of the fairly incessant rhythm – perhaps that is the right phraseology to use in connection with live music venues – of the campaign to ensure that we keep our live music venues has some effect”.