Buskers’ groups plan musical protest against Nottingham PSPO

Buskers’ rights groups – led by the Keep Streets Live campaign, along with the MusiciansUnion and Equity – have lodged a formal objection to Nottingham City Council’s draft Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).

The groups say that the proposals will criminalise street performance across almost the entire city centre, regardless of whether any disturbance or nuisance is actually being caused.

Keep Streets Live has proposed an alternative route– a system of busking guidance now successfully adopted by several dozen towns and cities across the UK, including Liverpool, York and Birmingham. But so far we have received nothing from the council other than an offer to monitor the PSPO once it has been put in place. We are disappointed that it seems a decision has already been made, despite objections from both local buskers and national professional bodies.

In response to the draft PSPO, Stephen Brown, Musicians’ Union Midlands regional organiser said:

“The MU has a clearly defined policy agreed by our membership to ensure that busking remains a vibrant, spontaneous and attractive cultural offer. Our approach is inclusive, encourages working with stakeholders in a positive way, but does not hinder local authorities from taking action on genuine nuisance. Cities imposing PSPOs as a solution to what they perceive as busking generated issues clearly misunderstand busking and are using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. I’d advise Nottingham City Council to step back from the brink, and work with organisations like the MU and Keep Streets Live to avoid alienating sections of its own community and suppressing well-established cultural liberty and freedoms.”

Tim Clement-Jones, a Lib Dem peer and prominent live music campaigner, said:

“Busking is vital for bringing cities to life and developing local musical talent. In the recent PSPO Statutory Guidance the government made it clear that busking should not be unduly restricted. I urge Nottingham City Council to reconsider these restrictive and unnecessary proposals.”

Keep Streets Live director Chester Bingley added:

“Considering that even the Antisocial Behaviour team has described problems with busking as only occurring ‘occasionally’, a PSPO seems vastly disproportionate and would certainly be open to a legal challenge. We question why these occasional problems cannot be dealt with firstly by simple dialogue, and then if necessary using existing legislation that targets the individuals concerned rather than inflicts collective punishment on all performers.”

The buskers’ groups are working with the Manifesto Club, which has also raised objections to the parts of the Nottingham PSPO that restrict leafleting, charity collection, and begging. In a submission to Nottingham council, the group said that these measures will ‘do great damage to the citys lively culture of political organisations and charitable causes – as well as making it impossible for homeless people to make money in order to eat.’ Manifesto Club response to Nottingham PSPO

The groups are planning a day of action (including music, leafleting, and a petition) to highlight the contents of the PSPO, raise awareness of its impact, and persuade the police and council that a genuine and active consultation should take place.

Letter to Nottingham Police re PSPO proposals.

“I was passed your details by a busker, Jack Morgan, and as one of the directors of the Keep Streets Live campaign am reaching out to say we would certainly welcome the opportunity to meet with yourselves and the council to discuss the matter further.

Keep Streets Live is one of the leading advocacy groups for street performance in the UK, and has worked successfully in York, Liverpool, Birmingham and several dozen other towns/cities across the country to introduce guidance that both protects the spontaneous and cultural aspects of busking, whilst ensuring that concerns of local businesses and residents are also met. We also support the proper and robust use of existing legislation in individual cases where necessary and when no other solution can be found.

As you may be aware, the Home Office guidance to this legislation (2014 Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act) makes it clear that it ‘should not be used to prevent busking or other forms of street performance’ UNLESS it is the cause of genuine and serious antisocial behaviour. For this reason we strongly believe that a PSPO is not fit for purpose as it targets ALL performance regardless of whether any actual disturbance, harm or loss is being caused. For this reason the policy is completely open to legal challenge, and our partners in the Musicians’ Union, Equity and Liberty have both the resources and the interest in pursuing this if necessary.

We also strongly believe, in our professional experience as performers, that elements of the PSPO will inevitably cause more problems. For example limiting busking to a small number of ‘authorised’ locations will serve to create more conflict between performers, make it considerably more difficult to make a living, and also concentrate noise and activity over longer periods of time rather than allowing it to naturally disperse across a fairly large city centre.

KSL fully believe that a sensible policy can be achieved in Nottingham, maintaining the fine cultural reputation of the city, involving all stakeholders in dialogue, and finding solutions to any problems that arise.

I have also CC’d in Dave Southern and Nicola Hambridge who are the two other members of our board.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Kind regards,
Chester Bingley (Director KSL).”

The Nottingham PSPO proposal is totalitarian in its extent. It criminalises not only busking across almost the entire city centre but also leafleting, giving away any items, and making unspecified demands from any other individual. These are fundamental attacks on freedom of speech and assembly. Giving a sandwich to a homeless person would be illegal. To hand out a leaflet pointing out the injustice and stupidity of this would earn you a second criminal conviction. Dare you sing a song about it and earn a third? As PSPO’s can be enforced by council enforcement officers (who are not infrequently paid commission) it is hard to see how this will not be used in the most dubious of circumstances. Nottingham also boasts approximately 100 PCSO’s who have a terrible track record of attempting to misuse their authority across the city.

As a busker I’m aware that Nottingham has a long history of unlawful activity against our craft, from attempts to intimidate performers into signing up for their ‘permit’ to deciding that merely 4 poorly selected pitches should be available for our use in a city with a population of approximately 300,00. It is the city which saw the first KSL/Buskers Unregulated joint day of action several years ago. As you can see here we were not left to our own devices.

Even according to recent discussions with the Police, genuine problems only occur “occasionally” so we could employ the ever-popular ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ analogy. Perhaps the council and police should use their resources and ample powers to solve those infrequent problems first before taking the lazy route of introducing blanket bans which damage the cultural fabric of the city and potentially criminalise all buskers. After all, if the authorities are unable to sort outa few real problems they it begs the question of how do they think they will be able to enforce the PSPO anyway? Most likely the ‘problem’ buskers will remain and it will be those who are not causing any issues, are easily intimidated, or more vulnerable  who will be excluded. And with the pressure on the limited number of pitches available hugely increased, most travelling buskers will just not bother turning up. It will be the same faces on the same pitches every day, increasing complaints and the result will just be more conflict and more pitches being closed.