Last night (October 23rd) I made a deputation to the Cabinet of Camden Borough Council and asked them, on behalf of street artists and performers, not to implement the strict licence scheme for busking that they have proposed. I was fortunate to be there at all as my request to attend the Cabinet meeting had earlier been refused by the leader Sarah Hayward who initially responded to emails asking her why my deputation request had been refused with the following stock answer,
It turns out this stock answer was misleading. Busking WAS on the agenda at the Cabinet meeting, item 9 to be precise, and if I hadn’t been allowed to speak the item would have been carried without even so much as a debate.
The policy proposal was introduced by a Camden officer with the following piece of bureaucratic jargon,
“The draft policy takes into account the priority of harnessing economic growth by creating a light touch regulatory framework that permits most street entertainment to take place, while taking a proportionate approach on necessary restrictions”
When I pointed out that the new policy would empower officials to confiscate instruments, impose fines of up to £1000 and to sell instruments to pay the fine I was accused of being sensationalist. It was pointed out that these powers would only be used against people who didn’t sign up to the policy and agree to abide by its many restrictions. That was my point exactly!
The legitimate concerns of over 3100 people who have so far signed our petition against this policy were dismissed by Cabinet member Theo Blackwell (Labour) as ‘ultra-libertartian angst’ which I thought was a bit dismissive given that many more people have so far signed the petition then have responded to the consultation. The Cabinet Member for community safety Abdul Hai (Again, Labour) said that these proposals would ‘Add Value to Camden and were part of an approach for ‘sustainable neighbourhood, harnessing economic growth and would actually ADD VALUE and VIBRANCY to the neighbourhood, although he didn’t explain HOW criminalising the playing of instruments in the streets would add colour and vibrancy to the area.
I’m sorry to report that the Cabinet recommended that the policy be adopted and have sent it off to the Licensing Committee who will make a decision on it next Tuesday night before the full council consider the proposals at a meeting on November 11th. We have much work of persuasion to do before that date arrives if the nature of public space in Camden is to be protected.
There have been some changes to the proposals Camden Council are making to their proposed policy following the consultation which I will attempt to summarise here
1.) Two types of licence are proposed, STANDARD and SPECIAL. All wind
instruments, percussion instruments, use of amplifiers or groups of more than two people are excluded from the STANDARD licence and have to apply for a SPECIAL licence. Applications for a STANDARD licence will take 5 working days to process. SPECIAL licences will take 20 working days to be processed, will be considered by a special panel who will decide if the applicant is a ‘fit and proper person for a licence.
2.) Flutes and recorders have been exempted from the ban (but not Kazoos)
3.) The cost of the Licence has been reduced in response to concerns that £123 yearly was excessive. The new amount is believed to be £49.
The consultation document I have just red has an appendix which lists the complaints that have been received about busking in the last 12 months (The justification for this new policy).
There have been a total of 106 complaints in the last 12 months but many of them have been made by the same people. Indeed 37 of those complaints come from a total of FOUR people!! A total of 54 people have complained in all, the most prolific of whom,
Complainant number 22, accounts for a massive 15 (over 10%) of the overall complaints with the following complaints broadly representative,
‘Busker on Camden High Street’
‘Busker on Canal Bridge’
‘Two buskers on Camden High Street by the bridge are playing musical instruments’ (isn’t that the idea?!)
complainant number 11 made a total of 10 complaints ranging from,
‘busker on Camden High Street using a guitar with an amplifier’
‘report of busker with violin and amplifier and a rapper too’
Complainant number 8 made a tidy 8 of the overall complaints including,
‘Two loud live guitar players – Camden High Street’
Complainant number 37 weighs in with 4 complaints including,
‘Busker near the canal bridge in Camden lock’
I have so far listed four people who alone account for 37 of the total complaints received in a year. Often it is not clear whether they are complaining that the busker is creating a nuisance, or merely complaining that the busker is there at all. I would suggest that statistics like these are a very flimsy basis on which to base an entire policy and give undue weight to the prejudices of a small minority of people who clearly have a very low tolerance threshold for busking.