Our Reply to “Councilstaff”

Our Reply to “Councilstaff”

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.

Best wishes,
Keep Streets Live
http://keepstreetslive.com

  1. ‘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

Summary of Major Objections

Summary of Major Objections

Photo: maistora.

 

We have one general and seven particular objections to Liverpool City Council’s new street performance policy.

In general, then, we object to the negative tone of the language used towards street performers throughout the minutes of the Cabinet Meeting where the new policy was put forward. For example:

At present street entertainment within the city centre can be intrusive to both businesses and residents alike. Street entertainers have in the past been accused of noise nuisance violations, repetitive performances, offensive/inappropriate behaviour and causing dangerous obstructions. There has been an increase in reports of abusive and offensive incidents which has caused alarm and distress to members of the general public and businesses within the city centre.

We believe this quote significantly overstates the issues that do arise from time to time from street performance, in order to provide a justification for the extensive and restrictive terms and conditions which Liverpool City Council are now requiring performers to sign up to.

Our seven particular objections to Liverpool City Council’s policy are as follows:

1. The policy uses coercive language and nebulous threats of prosecution for trespass in letters handed out to street artists and performers ahead of the new scheme, which needlessly intimidate vulnerable people and are exceptionally heavy handed. Since trespass is a civil, rather crimanal, offense, and requires material loss to be be proved,  legally highly questionable.

2. In extending enforcement powers to stop street performance on the smallest of pretexts, the policy risks turning those individual council officers and police into a poor man’s Simon Cowell in the sense that they can efectively prevent licensed performers from performing simply because they take an aesthetic dislike to your act or even to what you are wearing. 

3. The policy erroenously claims that “is illegal for persons under 18 to play, sing or perform in a street for money or monies worth”. In fact, the government’s own guidlines clearly state that “Children under 14 years may not busk”.

4. The policy is full of arbitrary specifications that make little sense. For instance: performers cannot occupy more then a 1.5m radius; sound must not be heard from more than 30m away; there can be no more than 5 people in a musical ensemble; signs must not be bigger than A4 in size; and no leaflets or demo CDs can be given away. The combined effect of all these sub-clauses is to grant officials of the council and enforcement officers due scope to endlessly chip away at performers and their ability to generate income by showcasing their talents.

5. The policy unnecessarily and arbitrarily limits the space wherein performances can take place, relegating street performance to a few officially sanctioned pitches, many of them in locations wholly unsuitable performance. Liverpool city centre has many natural pitches that performers are themselves accustomed for various reasons to performing upon: whether those reasons are acoustical, social or, indeed, economic. We favour dynamic rolling pitches with a recommendation for a 50m distance between noise-generating acts, with little restrictions on where ‘quiet’ acts like pavement artists can operate.

6. The policy requires performers to book with the council up to a week in advance to play for a maximum of two hours at any one pitch, turning what is often a spontaneous cultural event into a tightly controlled and highly limited activity. The policy is overly restrictive and needlessly bureaucratic. Street performance is, after all, a highly self-regulating business activity – those performers who are bad will not earn any money and quickly reconsider their act, whilst those who are good will flourish economically. The policy, furthermore, will make it much more difficult to make a living from street performance, thereby discouraging more accomplished acts from playing in Liverpool – the exact opposite result of the policy’s stated aims.

7. The policy discriminates against performers who use animals in their act. One owl-handler, who has a animal handling licence and £10 million worth of public liability insurance, and whose street act incorporates elements of educating people about birds of prey will be banned for no good reason.

We have gone into greater detail about specific articles of the policy in previous posts. In closing, it suffices to say that in a city which is known internationally and deservedly as a top destination for the arts and for its cultural life – as well as being the birthplace of the most renowned popular band of all time – Liverpool City Council’s new policy is a non-starter. We therefore respectfully ask Liverpool City Council to think again and come up with a policy that truly celebrates the vibrancy of street life without attempting to put street art and performance inside a tightly regulated box.

Liverpool’s policy and our objections, Part 2

Liverpool’s policy and our objections, Part 2

Photo: LepititNicholas

 

Liverpool City Council say:

4. Formal events organised by Liverpool City Council, Liverpool One, City Centre BID, Commercial District Bid, Albert Dock Company, and their partners will take precedence over street entertainment.

 

We say:

Street entertainers will be tolerated if they meet Liverpool City Council’s strict requirements, in other words, but will be cleared to make way for pre-arranged events. For major festivals like the annual Beatles week and Mathew Street festival, the streets are often completely ‘swept clean’ of performers by police acting on the council’s orders. It strikes us that this statement enshrines a preference to ‘hire in’ street life into local government policy, rather than encouraging spontaneous and organic street culture to flourish, as Liverpool has done historically.

 

They say:

5. Entertainers […] shall not dress or say or express in any other way anything which is likely to cause alarm, distress or offence to a member of the public. The entertainment should not include any activity which could cause harm to members of the public […]

 

We say:

This statement is worryingly vague. The policy has veered firmly into the subjective realm of opinions. Some of us like to wear bright blue trousers, which some find offensive, but that is hardly grounds enough for preventing those who wear such clothes from performing on Liverpool’s streets. Offence thresholds vary considerably from person to person. Any offence registered ought to be weighed against the unexpressed wishes of those who, for whatever reason, do not voice their enjoyment which street performance brings. Of the many thousands who enjoy street performance, few feel the need to express their enjoyment in any formal letter to their local council. They take for granted that the council will protect Liverpool’s vibrant street culture.

In adjudicating between competing rights, then, we would do well to recall John Stuart Mill’s famous ‘harm principle’: the actions of individuals should only be curtailed in order to prevent harm to other individuals. In our analysis, the offence taken by a few individuals to street performers in no way constitutes adequate grounds for curtailing the enjoyment that countless people take from street performance – be it unregulated or otherwise.

 

They say:

6. Only one entertainer or group of entertainers (maximum 5) will be allowed at any one time at any one site without prior consent.


We say:

Five entertainers constitutes an arbitrary limitations on the number of performers, excluding such notable street performers as the nine piece Liverpool-based Kazimier Krunk band seen here performing in Edinburgh, who continue busk around Liverpool city centre and LiverpoolOne on a regular basis:

 

 

We therefore urge the council to provide their reasoning behind this seemingly-arbitrary figure. This figure is part of a broader trend within Liverpool City Council’s policy to prescribe every single detail of street performance – a trend which fails to appreciate the realities of street performance. A well-rehearsed nine-piece jazz band will cause less nuisance, on balance, then one badly-rehearsed bagpiper.

 

They say:

7. Entertainers must stand unless their performance requires them to be seated or if they have a disability which prevents them from standing. If their performance does require them to be seated then this must NOT be directly on the floor.

 

We say:

Some street performers like to sit on the floor, some like to stand, some like to sit on a chair. It is unclear why, when neither of these seating arrangements is liable to cause any harm, such prosaic concerns should fall to any local council to decide.

 

They say:

8. A small (up to A4 sized) notice advising of thanks and detailing sources of further information (social media sites etc) about the street entertainer may be displayed on side of the open receptacle.

 

We say:

What grounds are there for Liverpool City Council to decide on the size of paper a performer might use to display his/her biography Facebook page? Writing on A4 is rather small from a distance? What difference could it possibly make for the sign to be A3? This is yet another example of Liverpool City Council’s policy being unnecessarily prescriptive.