Photo: Syncretism Associates.
The Liverpool Echo ran a story on our campaign (‘Liverpool busking rules attacked by buskers as ‘highly restrictive‘) in which a Liverpool City Council spokesperson attempted to downplay the true nature of the new policy, and the extent to which it seeks to prescribe every little aspect of Liverpool’s street scene:
What is being implemented [in Liverpool] is standard practice in other major UK cities, including Manchester and London.
But sadly, however, this is untrue. We responded in the comments section on Liverpool Echo’s website that there is no policy in place in Manchester which resembles the one to be rolled out across Liverpool as of today, Monday 9th July, 2012.
Our point did not meet well with all of the Echo’s readers. One reader calling themselves “Councilstaff” responded with a quotation from Manchester Council‘s website:
Busking in Manchester city centre.
Please be aware that busking as live music is considered regulated entertainment under the Licensing Act 2003.
The quote went on to describe the areas in Manchester where busking is permitted.
We think our response merits quoting in full:
Hello “Councilstaff”, and thank you for your comment.
In reply to your quotation, the terms and conditions of Manchester Council’s street performance policy differ significantly from the terms and conditions of the policy that is to be rolled out by Liverpool City Council this coming Monday. It would be disingenuous to suggest or imply that they bear any similarity. There are at least four differences:
1. Manchester Council’s street performance policy is voluntary – street artists and performers are not legally required to sign up to it. Liverpool’s policy, in contrast, is mandatory – any person caught performing on the street without signing up to the new scheme stands to be prosecuted for trespass upon land underneath the public highway, land which Liverpool City Council claims it owns.
2. Street performers in Manchester were not issued with trespass notices from council officials in the run-up to Manchester Council’s implementation of their street performance policy. Performers in Liverpool, in contrast, have been issued with trespass notices from council officials in the run-up to the policy’s implementation.
3. Street performers in Manchester are not required by Manchester Council’s policy to be placed on a central database or to hold a valid photo-card identification. Nor, indeed, are they required to carry individual licenses in order to perform. In contrast, all of these requirements must be met in order for individual’s to perform on the streets of Liverpool under Liverpool City Council‘s new restrictive street performance policy.
4. The key difference, then, between Manchester’s street performance policy and Liverpool’s is that whilst Manchester’s merely spells outs the principles under which street performance is expected to occur, Liverpool’s consists in a set of arbitrary and coercive policy guidelines, guidelines which grant absurd powers to enforcement officers (the power to stop a performance if they think the performer is not good enough, for example, or if they take the performer’s act or attire to be ‘offensive‘). In contrast to Liverpool City Council’s new policy, then, Manchester’s policy gives street artists and performers scope for manoeuvre. Unlike Liverpool’s new policy, Manchester‘s policy does not descend into arbitrary policy stipulations.
But just because Manchester council do indeed have a policy which regulates street performance and busking (albeit on a voluntary basis), that is no reason to conclude that Liverpool’s new policy must therefore be legitimate. Quite the contrary. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport‘s position as of December 2006 is that busking is not one the activities which falls under the intent of The Licensing Act 2003. They have published the following commitment:
To make clear in [Licensing] legislation that the policy intention is to exclude e.g. carol singers, buskers, puppet shows for children and poetry readings, from requiring a licence. This measure would most likely be delivered via regulation / and or Guidance.1
The attempt by councils to bring busking under the provision of that act, both in case of Liverpool and of Manchester, is therefore legally questionable at the very least.
In light of this, we feel that Liverpool and Manchester councils stand to benefit from working with streets performers and the Musician’s Union in a genuinely consultative process to find a non-coercive busking policy that works for all sides.
Keep Streets Live
- ‘Lifting the burden – Improving and realising community capacity’, DCMS December 2006, ‘Areas to be explored to achieve further reductions in administrative burdens’, p23, para H. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/LiftingtheBurden.pdf ↩