Anderson & Munby’s Hard Council

Anderson & Munby’s Hard Council

Photo: sixeightthree.

The summer of 2012 will be remembered for many things, the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, the Olympics and the continued stagnation of the UK economy, amongst other events. The street artists and performers of Liverpool will remember it for another reason, however: it was a time when a ragtag collection of artists, misfits, buskers and other concerned citizens stood up to Liverpool City Council and said a resounding ‘No!’ to their restrictive and coercive license scheme. Liverpool Council’s ‘Street Activity Management Plan‘ covered street preachers, skateboarders, political activists as well as buskers. The policy had sought to strangle the freedom of all those whose use of public space in Liverpool City Centre did not meet the council’s limited criteria of approval. Well-trodden streets were, at the stroke of a bureaucratic pen, turned into ‘regulated entertainment zones’ where impromptu performers faced the threat of trespass prosecutions if they dared to play without a council permit. The policy had been lobbied for by the City Central Business Improvement District (BID), an unelected, democratically-unaccountable, quasi-governmental body that represents the interests of major retailers in exchange for an additional layer of rates. For them, the urban environment is a space that needs to be tightly controlled and managed. In Councillor Stephen Munby, they found a local politician prepared to endorse their vision of a city centre that kept all ‘un-authorised’ street activity at bay and enabled the veneer of democratic approval to be placed upon a policy that was coercive, anti-democratic – not mention unlawful – to it’s very core.

Whatever it was that drew Stephen Munby into politics, and, by all accounts he was something of a marxist firebrand in his youth (he wrote for Marxism Today and Challenge, The Young Communist League’s Magazine amongst others), I doubt it was the desire to oversee and legitimise a heavy-handed clamp down upon street culture. When Joe Anderson joined the Labour party I’m sure that siding with the perceived interests of the rich and powerful against the marginalised and the vulnerable was not his primary motivation. In fact, I have no doubt that both men have, at times, been motivated by the genuine desire to serve the public and to make the world a better place. But when these elected politicians, however unwittingly, give legitimacy to policies that are coercive and soul-sapping in their assault upon freedom and creativity, they must be held to account. This is why the Keep Streets Live! campaign launched a legal challenge with the support of Kirwans Solicitors which saw the council withdraw their contentious legislation in September this year. That is why we were hoping that the council would take the opportunity presented by the abandonment of their scheme to work with the city’s street artists and performers, with the input of the Musician’s Union, to come up with a best practise guide that enhances the vibrancy of the city centre. We were still waiting for the council’s invitation to such a meeting when the next phase of their busker clampdown began.

Over the past three weeks Liverpool Council have conducted an operation that involved council officials, accompanied by police officers, approaching every street performer in the city and asking them for their names and addresses. We at ASAP! believe that in a free society it is an act of intimidation to approach a person who is behaving lawfully with uniformed officials and to ask for names and addresses, so we advised street performers to politely decline such requests. When performers did decline they were told to move on, that they were causing an obstruction and, in some cases, vague threats of arrest were made. When our solicitor David Kirwan wrote to the Council’s solicitor to ask for an explanation of their behaviour he received an evasive and dissembling reply:

The City Centre Management Team conducted a joint exercise with Merseyside Police and Environmental Health over two weekends to ensure that all busking activity in the City Centre was being conducted without causing any issues in relation to noise nuisance or obstruction and also to ensure that all buskers were aware of what is required of them to ensure vibrant city centre entertainment which works for all stakeholders.

To people on the ground it was experienced more as a coordinated campaign of harassment and intimidation, especially as no-one who was approached was doing anything unlawful or disruptive. The reply continued:

As part of the activity, buskers were approached and were given advice and guidance in relation to issues such as noise nuisance and obstruction. As a local authority, we have a statutory duty as regulators to ensure that we evidence any advice and guidance that we distribute prior to implementing any enforcement which may prove necessary. It was pursuant to this requirement for evidence that names and addresses were sought so that the Council would have to hand details of those to whom we had spoken and the information with which they had been provided.

When you cut through the thick layer of jargon and bureaucratic language, this makes it sound like it was no more than a council outreach program on behalf of buskers. It was no such thing. It was a coordinated attempt to intimidate street artists, and to show them who was in charge following the council climbdown over the summer. We received many reports of buskers being threatened with arrest, moved on by the police, and even being told by council officials that details of who was performing on ‘Liverpool Council’s property’ would be passed on to the Inland Revenue and Benefits Office to ensure that no benefits claims were being made. This is unnacceptable behaviour designed merely to cause fear and uncertainty.

These are hard times. We have a national government who are cutting the benefits of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society and starving local authorities of the money they need to carry out their statutory duties. Jobs and money are scarce, people are suffering. In this light, is it acceptable for the local authority to be diverting the scarce time and resources of the police and other bodies for a Christmas clamp down on buskers, when budgets are already stretched to the limit? There are deep social problems in Liverpool, harsh budget cut-backs, a housing crisis, high unemployment, homelessness and widespread drug and alcohol dependency. With this in mind, it seems obvious that such issues that are genuinely caused by buskers are easy to deal with, without the need for heavy handed action against performers or spending scarce council time and money passing legislation that restricts street culture in a city whose very lifeblood is music. The Council observe that there are more buskers then ever before, but why this should surprise them at a time of high unemployment is beyond us. Why do they feel the need to make life more difficult for performers then it already is? The local authority are best understood as stewards and guardians of our public spaces. They should be celebrating the diverse talent that take to the streets to entertain the public, they should support those individuals who brave the elements with no guarantee of reward and animate the urban environment, and they should stand alongside all users of the shared public spaces of the city centre and work with us all to build community and resolve such issues as do arise amicably.

So Councillor Stephen Munby and Mayor Joe Anderson, let’s put a stop to this silliness. You both have better things to be spending your time on then worrying about buskers on the streets of Liverpool. There are a lot of people suffering right now. There is poverty all around us. The shiny new Waterfront developments and LiverpoolONE do not hide the fact that deeper problems face the Liverpool community then a few ‘pesky’ buskers. ASAP! wants to work with you, with the help of the Musician’s Union, to find creative ways of dealing with busking issues without resorting to coercive legislation or heavy handed council action. Liverpool is known worldwide for its culture and music, but also for its friendliness and openness of spirit. By working together, we can build on Liverpool’s growing reputation and enhance the life of the city. We are waiting for your call Liverpool City Council.

Success for ASAP!’s Keep Streets Live campaign in Liverpool!

Success for ASAP!’s Keep Streets Live campaign in Liverpool!

Christian and Jonny present David Kirwan, Senior Partner of Kirwan’s Soliciters, with a gift on behalf of street artists and performers in Liverpool whose livilihoods his public-spirited legal support has helped to safeguard.

(Cross-posted from The Association of Street Artists and Performers)

There is an autumnal chill in the air and the nights are drawing in, already the memories of summer are fading and winter looms ahead, a time when most buskers have to dig out their thermals and fingerless gloves. But despite the colder weather and the diminishing hours of sunlight, our spirits are high. More than three months after its introduction, and under threat of legal action initiated by the Keep Streets Live! campaign, Councillor Stephen Munby announced Liverpool City Council’s decision to abandon their contentious busking at a recent cabinet meeting. This climbdown is hugely welcome and highly significant. It demonstrates that a constructive campaign of opposition can make a difference, and represents a significant moment in the ongoing campaign to protect street culture. At long las common sense has prevailed. We hope that this council reversal represents the beginnings of a new culture of cooperation and compromise between street performers and the powers that be.

Early on into the campaign, Kirwans Solicitors offered pro bono legal support to our cause, and began a legal challenge which was instrumental in the policy’s downfall. David Kirwan, Senior Partner at the firm, described Liverpool’s scheme as “oppressive, irrational and disproportionate“. At our campaign’s invitation, Kirwans initiated a formal legal challenge in the form of a judicial review application on behalf of Liverpool busker Siobhan McDermott. We know that the legal pressure applied by Kirwans helped to focus the minds of the council, and hope that they will now abandon the use of coercive measures like threats of trespass prosecutions and restrictive license schemes. We look forward to helping them draw up a system which genuinely enhances city life, and doesn’t smother spontaneity with spirit-sapping regulations.

Nonetheless, there are still unanswered questions about the council’s attitude to our legal challenge. Why, for instance, did the council claim that they were always going to review the policy after a three month period? This claim is nowhere to be found in the notes from the cabinet agenda at which the policy was announced  and talk of ‘internal reviews’ only emerged after the scheme came under heavy criticism from Keep Streets Live!.  The legal challenge we launched by judicial review had to be done in the first three months of the scheme’s introduction or it would have been invalid. We think it is a little bit suspect that the proposed internal council review was to be after three months, precisely after a legal challenge would have been ruled out.

We are also disappointed that the Mayor of Liverpool is still maintaining that the policy was ‘lawful and reasonable’, despite the information that the Keep Streets Live! campaign helped bring to light, and the many contentious points we drew attention to (such as the Simon Cowell clause, threats of trespass prosecutions in public space, the unlawful ban on under-18s and the small issue that the 2003 Licensing Act was never intended to cover busking).  The council are continuing to send out mixed messages about the real reasons they dropped the scheme.  We hope they come to see just how unreasonable their proposals really were and how troubling were the implications for how our shared public spaces are managed. This will be particularly useful if any new policy that emerges from this episode is to have real credibility.

So how did we arrive at this victory? Beginning life as a petition, growing into a website, taken up by the large number of affected parties, and so ending, finally, in the High Court, the campaign could not have succeed without the generous input and dedication of a wide variety of people who lent their support over the course of the summer.

From the supportive members of the public who turned out en-mass on the streets of Liverpool for celebratory busks to help raise awareness for the campaign, to the devoted members of our legal team, to the many individual buskers and performers who wrote and spoke out with passion and eloquence about the injustice of the council’s decision, people from all walks of life came together in a common effort to stand against an unfair decision. We owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands who signed the petition, to the street performers who turned up to the celebratory busks against the policy, to those who took photographs and made videos, designed websites and flyers, or lent their supportive presence to our various events, to sympathetic members of the public and supportive voices in the cultural and artistic communities of the city, to our dedicated and tenacious legal team, and those journalists who took the time to uncover the real issues at stake in Liverpool. We could not have achieved this without you.

To date, the campaign has attracted coverage from online, print, radio and television media outlets. Early on the Musician’s Union gave us their support and offered to help Liverpool City Council draft a fairer street performance system. This was enormously helpful. The staff at Change.Org also provided valuable advice and insight throughout the campaign.

Liverpool’s restrictive policy on street entertainment touched on many wider issues, and these issues are not going away. What, for example, are our public spaces for? Who are they for and who decides what happens in them? To what extent should narrow private interests be allowed to dictate public policy, in other words? All these questions touch upon the basic issue of what we want our streets to be like.

Street artists and performers are just one group amongst many different users of our shared public spaces. We could also mention political activists, street evangelists, shoppers, skateboarders, street traders and many, many more. All have their unique part to play in the tapestry of our shared urban lives. We agree with Mary Portas when she says in her well-publicised report that

Our high streets can be lively, dynamic and social places…that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community1

We believe that street art and performance adds colour and life to our public spaces and needs to be encouraged and protected.


What Next?

The Association of Street Artists and Performers (or ASAP! for short)will continue campaigning for a vibrant street culture, and will stand against burdensome and unduly restrictive regulations whether in Liverpool, or elsewhere. ASAP! is a movement for all who have a shared interest in street art and performance, and who value our shared public spaces as places of community, interaction, diversity and spontaneity. We wish to draw our membership widely and work alongside all those who care about street culture. As long as you share our values and are in agreement with our aims, we are happy for you to call yourself an ASAP! member, and we are here to help and support you. There is no charge for membership, although we are preparing information packs that will carry a small charge to cover our admin costs to send out.

If you would like to join ASAP! please fill in this form, add a few words about yourself (if you wish), and we will be in touch.

Until then, Keep Streets Live!



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Mathew Street Festival Report

Mathew Street Festival Report

It has been an eventful few days for the Keep Streets Live campaign. The weekend began early on Friday with a hearing in the High Court, where Liverpool City Council undertook to refrain from enforcing their contentious Street Entertainment Terms and Conditions against the buskers of Liverpool pending a review. The support of Kirwans solicitors has given this campaign real teeth and has helped show the Council that they are not above the law and are accountable to the people for the decisions that they make. It was very important to get this result ahead of the annual Mathew Street festival which has traditionally been one of the best times of the year for Liverpool’s street performers, but has seen Liverpool City Council take an increasingly hard line against buskers in recent years in the name of ‘elf and safety concerns. This year, we were determined, was to be different.


The Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!) printed out ‘Busk Cards’ with advice about the law, how to speak to officials if asked to move on, and provided Kirwans Solicitors 24 hour emergency helpline in case of any legal problems. We distributed these widely amongst the street performing community in Liverpool ahead of the August Bank Holiday. I got up at the crack of dawn on Sunday 26th August, day one of the Mathew Street festival, and made my way down to Church Street to look for a senior police officer. Having found one, I made him aware of the High Court ruling and also informed him that all the buskers had received advice about their legal rights. I explained that all we wanted was to be able to entertain the many visitors to Liverpool without fear of arrest or harassment. He was sympathetic to what I had to say, but then again, the police are usually too busy, ahem, fighting crime, to worry about buskers. It’s usually only at the Council’s behest that they ever go after street performers, and the High Court undertakings put paid to that.


I set up my gear outside HSBC on Lord Street and got ready to entertain the crowds, only to be stopped by a council official who told me I was performing in the Mathew Street festival’s ‘footprint’, and would have to move on for health and safety reasons. Given that the nearest staged event was about four streets away, I thought his concerns, though touching, were unnecessary and I politely told him so. It seems that the Mathew Street festival’s ‘footprint’ is rather large, encompassing, as it does, almost the entirety of Liverpool City Centre. Seeking to control every aspect of what happens in a public space as large as that is a big undertaking, and it would seem to be most sensible to not waste too much time chasing street performers away during an outdoor street festival, and instead to concentrate on issues of genuine public safety. When I showed the official a copy of the High Court documents he suddenly lost interest in asking me to move on in any event, and I was finally free to start singing and playing.


The weather was kind to us on Sunday, and people from all over the world stopped, listened to and watched the various impromptu busking performances on display as they made their way between the main stages of the festival. We had a few disturbing reports of council officials harassing some buskers, but there were many more street performers than in previous years, a fact we at Keep Streets Live can only attribute to the Kirwan’s backed legal action we took against the Council. It was a legal action made necessary by the perverse mentality that sees busking as a threat to public order instead of as an enhancement to the culture of the streets. It is the same mindset that sees busking as a health and safety hazard in the world’s most famous music city, but allows the widespread consumption of alcohol by the multitudes in public spaces during the festival, despite the havoc this always predictably causes. Buskers make the streets safer by mediating a calming and reassuring presence to passersby, and by being an extra pair of eyes on the streets. Predictably there were NO problems involving buskers throughout the Mathew Street festival. Equally predictably there were MANY problems involving extremely drunk people. Funny that.

Monday was the much-anticipated final day of the weekend’s events, ‘A celebration of Merseybeat’, and I plonked myself at the bottom of Button Street, a hundred yards or so away from the Cavern, in eager anticipation of the final day of the festival. I noticed it was raining a little, and so I set up my stuff beneath a shop’s overhang to keep dry. At around ten in the morning I was flabbergasted to be told that the entire day’s program of outdoor events had been cancelled due to the weather and our old friend, ‘elf and safety. Wendy Simon, cabinet member for Leisure and Tourism summed up the risk-averse approach of the Council and Mathew Street festival organisers when she said,


‘We just couldn’t take the risk of going ahead…there was just too much of a risk that someone could get hurt’. 


To us at Keep Streets Live it just seemed like another faintly miserable English summer’s day, entirely predictable, and all the more so for being on an August bank holiday. Before too long the rain had cleared away and the winds died down, and thousands of mystified people wandered the streets of Liverpool wondering why an entire festival had been cancelled on account of a bracing sea breeze. Woodstock it was not! Fortunately, more then a few buskers braved the elements and entertained the crowds for free. Had it not been for Keep Streets Live and Kirwans there would have been no outdoor music at all on Monday, a tragedy for the many thousands who had travelled from all over the world to be there. We are glad that buskers can still be spontaneous and just set up and play, even in the face of a bit of drizzle. We are still waiting for our thank you from Claire McColgan, director of culture at the council for our performances, provided at very short notice, entirely free of charge, and without the need for a health and safety assessment or events coordinator. The powers that be have clearly missed a trick by not inviting buskers to be a much more active part of the festival. We hope that our hardy and resilient presence on the streets on Monday was a wake up call to Liverpool City Council for them to realize the many benefits of a vibrant and living street culture, and that they will now start to cherish it and stop trying to stamp it out.


Whilst we welcome Liverpool City Council’s decision to suspend their busking Terms and Conditions with immediate effect, we are in no doubt that it is the prospect of a Judicial Review  that has focussed their minds. As the overly hasty cancellation of Monday’s outdoor events demonstrates too well, the council does not have a good track record in dealing with those things that fall outside of its direct control like the weather, volcanic ash clouds, and, oh yes, buskers! But, believe it or not, great things can often happen if you only step back and let them. Liverpool was the launchpad for a musical revolution that still echoes around the world today. It is no surprise that people come from all over the globe to visit this wonderful, diverse and exciting city. We want these visitors, and the people of Liverpool alike, to walk down streets filled with life, filled with colour and filled with music. These are challenging enough times for all of us already without the added burden of ill-thought out, absurd and draconian restrictions on street culture.  We are certain that the local authority and the police have many more important issues to be focussing their time and efforts upon. We are glad that Liverpool City Council, albeit under strong legal pressure, has now suspended their busking policy pending the prospective judicial review. Keep Streets Live now joins David Kirwan in calling on them to take the final step, and to drop it all together. Then, and only then, we look forward to working with them, with the help of the Musician’s Union, on a genuinely collaborative busking policy that brings people together and enhances the life of the great city of Liverpool.


The rain couldn’t dampen our spirits, no health and safety cancellations here…