Keep Streets Live response to Cultural Clampdown/PSPO consultation in Birmingham

Keep Streets Live response to Cultural Clampdown/PSPO consultation in Birmingham

A real threat exists to cultural and civic freedoms on the streets of Birmingham where the City Council have opened a consultation to make it a criminal offence for buskers to use any amplification on key pitches in the city. Please take the time to respond to the online consultation which you can complete by following this link: https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/place/the-introduction-of-public-spaces-protection-order/consultation/intro/view

The Keep Streets Live Campaign has already submitted a response to the consultation which we reproduce below. Our response explains in detail why the PSPO is not the right response to the problems in Birmingham and calls on the council to work with the busking community in the city to find a compromise that allows the council to deal with complaints about noise and nuisance on the one hand, but safeguards cultural freedoms and a vibrant and open busking policy on the other. You can feel free to use our response to the consultation as a reference point for your own response:

Keep Streets Live Response to PSPO Consultation 

The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which exists to protect access to public space for informal offerings of art and music and to prevent the encroachment of criminal law upon grassroots culture. We seek to work alongside local authorities wherever possible to build positive relationships that safeguard street culture, and to constructively challenge policies that marginalise street culture.

We strongly oppose the use of a PSPO to place a blanket ban on amplification in the proposed restricted area, and the use of a PSPO to target busking per se. Whilst we recognise that some buskers cause noise issues which need to be dealt with, the use of a blanket ban is a disproportionate response because it penalises many street artists and performers who have not been causing issues and is therefore arbitrary. Any musician who breached the proposed ‘Public Space Protection Order’ would face a potential criminal record and punitive fines. The proposals would marginalise its street artists and musicians and devastate their livelihoods by effectively making it illegal to perform with instruments that incorporate any form of amplification on some of the key busking pitches in the city. This would diminish the informal cultural life of the city of Birmingham and deprive visitors and residents alike of a huge range of musical performances in the social and grassroots cultural hub of the city.

The Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 should not be used to stifle freedom of expression and criminalise musicians. Busking is a social activity, not an antisocial one. It is a tradition that enhances public space and deserves to be wholeheartedly supported and protected by the local authority. They already have robust powers available to tackle the inconsiderate behaviour of a small minority of performers that cause issues. It is already a criminal offence to create a noise nuisance on the streets, and, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the local authority have the power to issue noise abatement notices to anyone creating noise nuisance, including buskers, and to seize instruments.The PSPO powers contained in the the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 were not designed to regulate busking and the government gave assurances in Parliament would not be used against buskers per se and that the powers contained in the new Act were only aimed ‘against the anti-social minority who give street performers a bad name:

“I might illustrate them as being aggressive beggars and drunken louts”(http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/140121-0001.htm#14012175000753)

Birmingham’s current proposals would affect all street musicians, not just the minority who have caused issues. The use of a PSPO prioritises ease of enforcement and administrative convenience over freedom of expression and the grassroots cultural life of the city. It represents a disproportionate response.

Many contemporary street musicians use some amplification to support outdoor musical performances. Some use quiet instruments or music technology which can’t work effectively without amplification. These include keyboards, electric violins, mandolins, guitars as well as loop pedals which are an increasingly common part of contemporary musical performances. Accomplished performances, many of which incorporate some amplification, are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Birmingham each year and are an established part of the grassroots cultural life of the city. The use of amplifiers can actually allow musicians to play and sing more quietly and still be heard just above the hustle and bustle of ambient street noise. This is especially important for vocalists who can face voice damage straining to be heard over the sounds of the street.  It is not difficult to find a volume level which is not intrusive and volume levels can always be adjusted upon request. A ban on amplifiers to be consistent would logically have to extend to wind, percussion and brass instruments, all of which have the potential to be significantly louder than ‘amplified’ sound depending on the context. The issues in Birmingham have been caused not by amplification per se, but by excessive volume on the part of a small minority of individual performers. The local authority should target enforcement action against those performers who have caused a persistent issue with noise nuisance, whether amplified or unamplified, using their existing statutory powers such as the power to issue noise abatement notices and confiscate musical instruments under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The principle that enforcement should be against individuals who have caused specific issues rather than creating an arbitrary criminal offence (i.e. use of an amplifier) is key. The local authority have powers under the new legislation to issue CPNs (Community Protection Notices) to any individual whose behaviour is of a persistent nature and is a)unreasonable and b) having a detrimental effect on those in the community. CPNs could be used by Birmingham as a power of last resort to use against buskers, or other users of public space, who have caused persistent issues. Whilst CPNs still need proper oversight, they are targeted against individuals rather then entire groups, or cultural activities and therefore represent a more proportionate and balanced response to the issue of noise from busking, enabling the local authority to take effective action against the minority of performers who cause issues, rather than requiring them to take action arbitrarily against, for example, someone using an amp in a PSPO area who otherwise is not causing any issues. CPNs could be backed up by a Best Practise Guide for busking published by the council setting out expected behaviour in the city, tailored to Birmingham’s specific cultural context and agreed between the busking community, the Musician’s Union and the business community. Such an approach has worked well in Liverpool and York and has led to a reduction in the number of complaints received about busking. A measured response that targets individuals is less likely to be politically contentious and to cause damage to the city’s reputation. It is also much more likely to be compliant with Article 10 of the Human Rights Act (Freedom of Expression) and therefore less vulnerable to legal challenge. On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign I urge Birmingham City Council to take this approach.

Response to Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Busking Consultation

Response to Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Busking Consultation

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are consulting on bringing in a busking license which will be almost as restrictive as Camden. We have taken part in their consultation and have reproduced our responses here. You can take part in the consultation which closes on October 19th by clicking on the link below and using our responses as a guide if you wish. The more people who complete this consultation the greater the chance we have of persuading Kensington and Chelsea’s Councillors not to adopt this proposed scheme.

 

http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/survey/busking/snphase2busking1.htm

 

1.) Appendix A shows the pilot area to which the Street Entertainment (Busking) Policy refers to. Do you agree with the selected pilot area?

The Greater London Authority has convened a mayoral taskforce specifically for the purpose of agreeing a code of conduct for busking across London between all stakeholders. In the light of this process alone, which Kensington and Chelsea are part of, the imposition of a statutory licensing regime is highly prematureSection V of the London Local Authorities Act is a contentious piece of legislation which empowers local authorities to criminalise street culture, impose fines and seize musician’s instruments. The local authority has other statutory powers (Environmental Protection Act 1990, Highways Act 1980) that can be used to address problematic busking. The imposition of a licensing regime is contrary to the nature of busking as a spontaneous and informal cultural pursuit.

 

2.) Busking will not be allowed in the piloted area without a licence on Fridays and Saturdays from 10.00 to 18.00. Are these controls appropriate?

 

 

In the busking tradition performers typically perform in many different localities in the course of a working season. Busking licenses create unnecessary obstacles for travelling performers and always lead to a decline in the circulation of performers and greatly reduce variety. Camden have introduced a license under these powers alongside Hillingdon. If the 30 remaining boroughs followed suit the result would be the total fragmentation of the London busking community. Very few performers will have the resources to pay for 32 separate licenses, the result will be greatly reduced variety and quality of performances and the diminishment of the cultural life of the capital. A license regime also criminalises unlicensed performers who may not have been aware of the license arrangements and will be put off from coming to the Borough to perform. It creates an arbitrary barrier to the use of public space for the arts and would be resource-intensive to enforce. The threat of instrument confiscation and punitive fines is disproportionate to the issues that can arise from busking and is an unwarranted interference with Freedom of Expression under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. An ongoing legal challenge to Camden Council’s license regime under Section V powers is being heard by the Court of Appeal on November 13th. These restrictions will be open to a similar challenge.

 

3.) On a Friday and Saturday, during the hours of 10.00am and 6.00pm the council will issue a maximum of 6 x 70 minutes slots per day, per location. Do you feel this number of slots is appropriate?

 

Busking performances differ in length according to the nature of the performance and the context in which it takes place. The Keep Streets Live Campaign Best Practice Guide recommends that performers do not repeat material in the same location but move between locations. We also recommend that buskers swap and share pitches informally. This scheme will lead to more co The proposed scheme is too prescriptive because it will lead to performances being cut short arbitrarily and doesn’t take account of the nature of busking as a primarily informal and spontaneous activity. The proposed scheme is too prescriptive because it will lead to performances being cut short arbitrarily and doesn’t take account of the nature of busking as a primarily informal and spontaneous activity. Some musical performances will be longer than 70 minutes, some will be much shorter. The booking system does not allow the flexibility and informality that is part of the nature of busking.

 

4.) Of the 42 slots available, each busker will be able to pre-book two slots per day. is this an appropriate number of pre-bookable slots?

 

Having to pre-book slots is unnecessarily bureaucratic in the first instance. Buskers typically turn up to a location and make an evaluation as to whether a space is suitable for a performance. They will then negotiate with other performers and come to arrangements in an informal way. Requiring pre-booked slots means that inevitably people will not turn up to their allocated spot but it won’t be open to people who could otherwise have used it. The scheme will have to be administered which will be resource intensive. Keep Streets Live Campaign strongly recommends not having pre-booked slots at all and encouraging buskers to swap and share pitches on an informal basis.

 

5.) If all the slots have not been filled in advance, then on the day before noon a busker can take up an additional slot provided that they have not already used that same site on the same day. Is this restriction appropriate to allow fair distribution of slots?

 

 

Some buskers will have a large repertoire which would allow to play different performances at the same location on the same day. Pre-booking slots is unnecessary and will, in itself, lead to an unfair and uneven distribution of slots. Existing statutory powers can be used against buskers who cause issues by not moving. The introduction of a licensing regime with pitch allocations and pre-booked slots will greatly reduce the vibrancy and circulation of performers.

 

6.) Do you agree that the council should allow street buskers to apply for an additional street trading license?

 

 

This question relates to CDs of busker’s music. Having recordings available to the public enhances the busking experience by allowing performers to make their music available to a wider audience and allowing the public to enjoy a tangible souvenir of the busker’s performance. Nonetheless, CDs are a secondary element to busking and should therefore be made available on a voluntary basis to those who wish to take one. Best Practice Guidance agreed between Liverpool City Council and the Keep Streets Live Campaign recommends that CDs be made available for a ‘suggested and voluntary contribution’. It is emphasised that members of the public are free to take a CD without making payment, just as they are free to enjoy the performance without making payment. Requiring an additional street trading license for busking is another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy which will put off performers from registering under the scheme, and discourages buskers from making their music available to the public to the detriment of the busking experience. Whereas for a market trader the sale of stock is the primary purpose of their business, for a busker CDs are a secondary aspect of the busking performance. This is an important difference that needs to be recognised.

 

7.) If you are a busker will you be willing to pay the initial £15 fee for a period of 6 months?

 

Whilst the £15 fee in itself is not prohibitive it accompanies a huge range of terms and conditions and restrictions that, taken together, greatly inhibit the ability of working musicians to make a living on the streets. It criminalises an informal cultural pursuit, it creates obstacles for travelling performers and it attempts to impose a highly formalised set of regulations upon an informal cultural pastime which has always relied on spontaneity and democratic access to public space. Busking adds vibrancy and colour to public spaces, increases dwell time for local businesses and is an enormous part of the visitor economy to London. Musicians should not have to pay for the privilege of providing free entertainment to the general public whilst enhancing the shared public spaces of the borough. The license scheme is a misconceived attempt to address problems that have been caused by a small minority of performers who could be dealt with using existing statutory powers. We recommend that Kensington and Chelsea engage with the Greater London Authority taskforce and agree a code of conduct for busking that works for all parties. If the aim is to attract high quality performers into the borough, this scheme will achieve the opposite. It will create a narrow pool of performers who are willing to sign up to the restrictions (who may well not be buskers in the traditional sense, and will predominately only perform within the Borough), and will deter many other performers from ever visiting. Over time it will greatly diminish the vibrancy and variety of street performances on offer in this part of London

 

8.) If you are a busker would you pay £40 for a period of 4 weeks to sell associated items?

 

Whilst we welcome the fact that RBKC recognise that ‘associated items’ are a legitimate aspect of busking, we recommend that buskers do not sell CDs but make them available for a suggested and voluntary donation. A street trading licence is unnecessary to that end and the cost of it is prohibitive relative to the amount of time slots RBKC are making available for busking.

 

 

9.) Do you have any further comments concerning this draft Street Entertainment (Busking) Policy?

 

On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign of which I am the founding director I will send you a PDF document containing the best practice guidance agreed between the City Council, Business Improvement District and the busking community in Liverpool over a period of five months. It aims to give businesses, buskers and residents the resources they need to resolve disputes and to allow street culture to flourish. It could be adapted for use in Kensington and Chelsea at a fraction of the cost of the imposition of the Licensing Regime that is proposed. Keep Streets Live is part of the Mayoral taskforce for busking alongside RBKC and would be very happy to work alongside your officers and other bodies such as the Musician’s Union to agree a scheme that works for all parties.

Criminalising Culture in Leicester Square

Criminalising Culture in Leicester Square

Westminster Council-stop the prosecution of young musician Dan Wilson aka ‘Dawson’, support your street artists.

On Wednesday 20th August at 10am a talented young musician who has represented Great Britain in the world loop championships (http://youtu.be/Zh2gvYsWZP4) appeared in court in Westminster answering criminal charges of ‘illegal street trading’ and using a speaker in the street for a 10 minute busk in Leicester Square early this year with a couple of CDs of his own music with a sign saying ‘suggested donation £5’ and giving details of his Facebook page. This was his fourth court appearance relating to this one incident of spontaneous live music and he now faces a fifth court hearing in November.

If convicted this graduate of Leeds College of Music will have a life-long criminal record which will affect his ability to travel aboard, an essential part of life as a touring musician, and face heavy fines.

Westminster Council’s determination to prosecute Dawson comes against a backdrop of the Mayor of London’s #backbusking campaign launched in April with the intention of making London ‘the most busker-friendly city in the world’. Boris Johnson has convened a task force designed to remove obstacles to performing in the capital city which includes Westminster Council, the Musician’s Union and the Keep Streets Live Campaign. Despite this, Westminster Council have decided to spend thousands of pounds on a heavy handed criminal prosecution against Dawson perhaps to make an example of him lest any other musician decides to commit the ‘crime’ of playing music in Leicester Square. The extravagant waste of scarce public resources involved in using the police and courts to criminalise an activity which actually brings colour and enjoyment to the streets of our cities is very troubling

If you share the view of the Keep Streets Live Campaign that this protracted prosecution is a scandalous misuse of public time and money and that it represents a campaign of legal harassment against a promising young musician please email the cabinet member for Public Protection at Westminster Nickie Aiken on naiken@westminster.gov.uk and also the Head of Legal and Democratic services at Westminster Peter Large on plarge@westminster.gov.uk who, bizarrely, maintains that it is in the ‘public interest’ to spend thousands of pounds prosecuting Dawson. Politely point out to them that it serves no ones interest to criminalise culture and that the public don’t need protection from music makers who are bringing enjoyment and colour to public spaces.

In response to emails they received when this news went public, Joseph McBride, Cabinet Officer for Communications and Strategy for Westminster stated that ‘…street performance can give rise to real problems for local residents and businesses and in such cases it may be necessary to ask buskers who are causing a public nuisance [emphasis mine] to desist and, in exceptional circumstances [emphasis mine] make use of our legal powers as a last resort’.

Dawson had never performed in Westminster before and only played for a matter of minutes on the evening he was challenged. He is an accomplished musician and was not causing any nuisance, so why is he being targeted?

Metropolitan Police have justified police action against buskers in Leicester Square by claiming that ‘Spontaneous, unauthorised, unlicensed street performing causes anti-social behaviour and is a driver of crime’. Repeated requests for evidence of this claim under the Freedom of Information Act have been fruitless. However, it may be of interest to note that recent police crackdowns on buskers in Leicester Square, including the well publicised arrest of The King’s Parade, winners of the Mayor’s GIGS competition to find ‘ London’s best buskers’ have been partly funded by Heart of London Business Improvement District, picking and choosing legislation to use against buskers on an arbitrary basis. This is a troubling example of private interests hijacking civic and cultural freedoms. On its website the Heart of London BID states that it promises  ‘quality, licensed street entertainment’ but Westminster do not issue busking licenses resulting in the absurd situation where award winning musicians who have represented the UK internationally are criminalised under the pretense of targeting antisocial behaviour. This is a Kafka-esque farce in which the police claim, entirely without evidence, that unlicensed busking causes anti-social behaviour in which a private company funds police action against buskers whilst claiming to support ‘quality, licensed entertainment’ and in which Westminster Council do not even issue licenses for busking so that even if a musician wished to obtain one, they couldn’t! London can, and must, do better by its musicians and culture makers if it wishes to avoid a descent into a dull, authoritarian conformity on its streets.