The Spirit and The Law

The Spirit and The Law

The campaign to Keep Streets Live in Camden has been gathering pace and some high profile support since the petition was launched just over two weeks ago which now has nearly 2500 signatures. ASAP! has joined forces with comedian and political activist Mark Thomas whose involvement will help him in his quest to participate in 100 minor acts of civil disobedience which, if he fails to complete, will see him having to donate £1000 to the woefully inept but seriously funny UKIP.

Although we are continuing to see the funny side, the issues at stake in Camden are very serious indeed for everybody who values public space. Camden Council’s plans to impose a strict licensing regime on any person who wishes to play music on the streets is a mindless tax on joy, spontaneity and basic freedom. The threats to confiscate instruments and to sell them unless a fine of £1000 is paid are a frightening prospect for any musician struggling to make their way in one of the world’s most expensive cities, and that is exactly what they are meant to be. Camden Council are attempting to use the law to frighten and bully people into a dull conformity. A Labour-led council, who should really be concentrating on mitigating the effects of £83.3 million worth of local authority cuts in the next year alone upon some of the most vulnerable people in London, are somehow finding the time to clamp down on one of the informal aspects of city life that gives people enjoyment and a feeling of belonging in an often threatening urban environment. I’m staggered that the police and the council have enough resources to be spending thousands of pounds on a scheme to regulate busking. With that in mind, just over a week ago I made a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police to see what their thoughts on busking were….Yesterday, I heard back from them…

 

Here is the exchange (With my thoughts in brackets next to their answers)

 

Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

Camden Borough Council are conducting a consultation on plans to
introduce a license system for busking in Camden. This request
seeks information on the policing of busking in Camden.

In the last 12 months:

What is the police policy on buskers?
Do the police see busking as a serious issue for the Camden police
force?
How many buskers have been arrested for busking in Camden?
How many buskers have been moved on, and for what reason?
What is the advice given to officers working on the beat how they
should deal with buskers?

Yours faithfully,

Jonathan Walker
Dear Jonathan Walker

I have been forwarded your request for information regarding busking in
Camden Town (copy below).

I am the Inspector with responsibility for the following wards –
Haverstock, Gospel Oak, Camden with Primrose Hill, Kentish Town,
Cantelowes and Belsize. As such I am in receipt of enquiries/complaints
made by the communities of those wards. I moved to this role in June and
was informed of the community complaints relating to busking. I will
attempt to answer your enquiries in the order in which you have raised
them.

What is the police policy on buskers?

The complaints regarding busking have mainly gone to the Councils noise
enforcement team. They have forwarded them to us for our information. As I
am sure you are aware my Neighbourhood Policing Teams respond to community
concerns. Part of that response has been to support the council officers
noise enforcement teams patrols in Busking hotspots (JW -Are they were the fire-jugglers gravitate to?) This we have been
doing at peak times. There is no policy on it as such but our patrol
strategy is to support the noise enforcement officers engagement of the
buskers. (Don’t you love the word ‘engagement’ in this context?) As you know the council have made a proposal for the licensing of
buskers. The noise enforcement officers engage the buskers and explain the
proposal. If there is any ‘extreme busking’ – amplified music or large
crowds causing obstructions of the highway then they are asked to move on (Extreme busking sounds like an endurance sport! In this definition anybody who uses an amplifier and is capable of attracting a crowd is guilty of ‘extreme’ busking! In Camden there is so much noise from traffic and music in shops as well as road works, that a small battery powered amp is a vitally important part of a street musician’s performance.)

Police only step in if required.

Do the police see busking as a serious issue for the Camden police force?
Complaints from the community are taken seriously. Large numbers of
complaints naturally provokes responses. You will no doubt be aware of our
policing challenges set by MOPAC, specifically in relation to the
reduction of the MOPAC 7 crimes – Violence with injury, Robbery, Burglary,
Theft of Motor Vehicle, Theft from a Motor Vehicle, Theft from a Person
and Vandalism (criminal damage) by 20%. You will and may say that busking
does not feature in that and should not be a priority. (That is exactly right. Busking DOES NOT feature in any of the priorities for policing which rightly revolve around solving crime and keeping people safe, particularly from serious crimes against the person.) You may also be
aware that in the same challenge we have also been asked to boost public
confidence by 20%.  MOPAC sight four drivers to boosting public
confidence. Three of which apply to this issue :

* Engagement with the community – Committed to and engaged with the
community; listening, understanding  and dealing with their
concerns; and are reliable
* Fair Treatment – Fair and treated with respect; helpful, friendly
and approachable
* Alleviating Local ASB – Reductions in local disorder and ASB

(Playing music on the streets is not anti-social and does not constitute ‘disorder’…Camden Council say they have received 100 noise complaints about busking in the last 12 months. That’s just over 10 a month in a city like London, not too bad really. Certainly not a major police matter with everything else going on)

You will see that working in partnership with the council on busking in
response to community complaints is necessary. We are in support of the licensing of buskers in Camden. (There’s a surprise, the Met Police are in favour of the extension of legal powers that can be used against individuals which would give them the right to seize equipment and instruments and take away people’s livelihoods. It would have been more interesting and more appropriate if the police, who are, after all, public servants, had remained neutral on what is clearly a political issue relating to the use of public space).

How many buskers have been arrested for busking in Camden?
None

How many buskers have been moved on, and for what reason?
I do not have any information on numbers as they are not recorded. (Again a clear sign that this is not a major policing issue, so why are they getting so involved?) If they
are asked to move by the enforcement officer and then move on there is no
course for police action. I have just spoken to an officer from the Camden
Town Centre Team who carry out 90% of our busking patrols and I am told it
is very rare that they have had to ask buskers to move on This IS NOT the experience of many of our members who frequently cite police harrasment as one of the pitfalls of busking in Camden. However, in future they will be able to cite this document as proof that the police don’t normally move buskers on unless…wait for it….)

As above it is only extreme buskers that we would make that request of due to
amplification or causing an obstruction. (There it is again, EXTREME buskers, defined as anyone using an amplifier, regardless of volume, or quality of the sound, or skill, or artistry, musicality, beauty or joy etc etc etc)

Most report back that if amplified, the equipment is turned off and they are allowed to continue.
Others state that some just pack up and move locations on seeing the noise
enforcement/police approach. If they are asked to move on its due to
amplification and/or obstruction of a highway

What is the advice given to officers working on the beat how they should
deal with buskers?
I believe I have covered this in my opening paragraph. Our staff our out
in support of the noise enforcement team. (Your staff should be out on behalf of all the people they are paid to serve, including buskers who can make a big contribution to keeping public spaces safe just by being present and can change threatening atmospheres by playing music, as well as being an extra pair of eyes and ears on the streets)

I have information of an intention for a demonstration or mass busk event
in Camden on Monday. It would appear that you have set this up and
requested support via social media sites. I understand that you want to
drum up (excuse the pun) support against the licensing proposal. It would
be beneficial for you to work with us so we are aware of your intentions,
locations, routes for your procession so we can facilitate any lawful
public protest. Could we meet to discuss your planned event. I attach some
useful legislation to assist you in the planning of your event. (I’d be happy to talk to you. I must emphasise, it is not a protest, it is a peaceful public gathering of the newly formed Citizen’s Kazoo Orchestra. We will be doing nothing more subversive then blowing kazoos in unison and handing out leaflets. We come in peace to celebrate public space and the freedom to play music on the streets without having to seek permission from the bureaucratic engine of local government. We expect our elected officials and public servants to concentrate their valuable times and resources upon keeping us safe and serving the public).

Friends, the future of public space in our capital city is the issue here. Private interests, backed up by public policy, if unchecked have the power to change the way in which we live our lives and experience our shared public spaces. If the police and the council can clamp down on street culture in a place as vibrant and diverse and  as full of life as Camden, they can do it anywhere.

The freedom of the streets needs to be protected and upheld in a spirit of love and peace, and you can rest assured that ASAP! will do everything it can to safeguard and protect those freedoms, and to seek to work alongside the police and local authority to explore constructive ways of dealing with the issues that arise…

Peace,

 

Jonny

Link to this

Camden’s Street Culture Under Threat

Camden’s Street Culture Under Threat

Street culture in Camden is under imminent and real threat. Under plans being drawn up by Camden Council, Street Performers face a fine of up to £1000 for the ‘crime’ of busking without a license. Council officers will have the power to seize musical instruments and other equipment, the tools of a busker’s trade, and to sell them if the fine is not paid within 28 days. ASAP has set up a petition calling on the council to rethink their plans, you can sign it here.

They are currently conducting a public consultation on their proposals to introduce a draconian licensing scheme for busking. If this scheme is introduced, it will be one of the most restrictive busking policies in the entire United Kingdom. Buskers will have to pay an annual fee of up to £123 to perform on the streets. A presumption against the use of wind instruments (including flutes and recorders), as well as any form of percussion (No bongoes or bins) or amplification (regardless of volume level) will apply.

The ‘right’ to seize instruments and equipment will also extend to private contractors working for Camden and is NOT dependant on a public nuisance having been demonstrated. Under this policy, busking without a license is itself criminalised. This could lead to a situation where people’s most prized possessions are taken from them by force and sold for no other reason than strumming a guitar in the street. This is not an acceptable use of state power or public resources.

These proposed regulations will have the effect of making it almost impossible to busk in Camden as well as settting a damaging precedent for other parts of the country. They are an assault on the freedom for people to use shared public spaces for grassroots expressions of art and culture and the ability of musicians to share their art with the public. The restrictions are particularly unnecessary in light of the fact that there are many statutory powers available to the council to deal with genuine episodes of nuisance without invoking new laws (Such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993). At a time when local authorities are being forced to make large cuts in spending, it is, at best, unfortunate, that Camden are proposing to spend scarce public resources on a policy like this when there are so many other issues of pressing concern relating to poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, the closure of essential services for social care and genuine crimes againt the person.

My name is Jonny Walker. I am a professional street performer, singer songwriter and the Founding Director of the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!) a body that exists to campaign against policies that threaten street culture and to promote the idea that our shared public spaces belong to all of us and should be protected for the common good. We campaigned againt a busking law in Liverpool that would have seen buskers prosecuted for ‘tresspassing’ in a public space and facing other stringent limits on their freedom to perfrom, and we won. We asked York City Council to review their busking permit scheme because of the many restrictions it imposed on street artists, and they listened and made changes involving street artists and performers in that process. Now we are asking the same of Camden Council.

Camden is one of the most dynamic and culturally diverse areas in London. It hosts many iconic music venues and is home to MTV studios and many record labels. It is famous worldwide as a vibrant centre for the arts and live music, as well as for its famous markets and nightlife. The council’s proposals to introduce draconian busking regulations threaten to damage Camden’s reputation as a local authority that nurtures and supports the arts as well as to damage the enjoyment of thousands of people, both visitors and residents, who enjoy the dynamic street culture scene in this iconic London Borough. The Council’s plans in their current form lack imagination and stifle creativity. At best they represent a heavy-handed response to complaints about noise and the use of a whopping great sledge hammer to crack a very small nut, at worst, they are a damaging attempt to restrict freedoms attached to the use of public space at a time of austerity and the closure of many live venues.

As a local authority that values its proud artistic and musical heritage, Camden should abandon its plans to license busking, and instead consult with street performers, residents, professional bodies like the Musician’s Union and Equity, as well as educational establishments like the London College of Music to come up with a supportive policy framework for busking that builds and improves upon Camden’s already vibrant street culture scene, deals proportionately with the issues that arise from busking from time to time, and, in-so-doing,  benefits the well being of the entire borough and the city beyond it.

 

The consultation runs until October 4th. People who are concerned about Camden’s plans can fill in the on-line consultation here.

Please also sign the petition asking on Camden to think again.

And join the facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/keepstreetslivecamden/

Keep Streets Live!

 

 

Liverpool’s policy and our objections, Part 3

Liverpool’s policy and our objections, Part 3

Photo: agm92

 

Liverpool City Council say:

9. The entertainer must not sell, offer for sale or expose for sale any merchandise such as pre-recorded CDs, tapes, t-shirts or postcards.

 

We say:

Why does the council not follow the example of York who allow buskers to purchase an occasional street trading consent for the purposes of selling CDs or Gloucester which allows a small CD box to be in the receptacle? Often street performing is a way for musicians to get work elsewhere and they give away CDs with examples of their work to help them get gigs. We see nothing wrong with giving away CDs to people who are interested in them.

 

They say:

10. The entertainer must not distribute confectionery or other foods, flyers or free merchandise.

 

We say:

We see no reason why somebody who was interested in a performer and finding out more about them should be prevented from taking a flyer or a free CD. Again, this is restrictive for no good reason and an unnecessary restraint of trade. On the other hand, we can understand their point with regards to food and confectionery and would not encourage performers to distribute food as part of their act (we can assure you that this is not the practise of most Street Performers in any event).

 

They say:

11. Entertainers must cease their performance and move on if requested to do so for any reason by a Police Constable or a Council Officer. For the avoidance of doubt, such reason may include the Constable or Officer not being satisfied in their opinion that the performance is of a satisfactory quality.

 

We say:

This is where the policy slips into really murky waters. Liverpool City Council are claiming summary powers to stop performances for any reason. Are we to believe that Liverpool council and police officers should take on the role of a poor man’s SImon Cowell? This would be amusing if it wasn’t such an encroachment upon a person’s freedom, and the rights of an audience to decide for themselves what they enjoy listening to. This is not the role of a city council, and this clause introduces a massive potential for abuse on the part of individual officers.

 

They say:

12. It is illegal for persons under 18 to play, sing or perform in a street for money or monies.

 

We say:

George Harrison was 17 when the Beatles played Hamburg. He would have been too young to perform on Liverpool’s streets under the council’s new policy. George Samson, the street dancer who was 14 when he won Britain’s Got Talent, would have been arrested for trespass under the new policy. The new policy unnecessarily restricts the rights of up and coming talent to perform on the streets, and this at a time of high youth unemployment. It is yet another example of council over-reach. Furthermore, the government’s own guidelines state that busking is permissible for anybody over the age of 14.

 

They say:

13. The entertainer must be eligible to work in the UK.

 

We say:

Now the council is acting in the capacity of immigration service and border control as well as talent show judge.

 

They say:

14. The entertainer must be in possession of a valid Liverpool City Council Street Performance Permit whenever a performance takes place and must produce the same on request made by a Police Constable or Council Officer.

 

We say:

This policy is so restrictive that we would advise any street performer not to sign up to it. By signing up to this policy performers give tacit legitimacy to a policy that, at root, is coercive and restrictive. We would advise any potential street performers in Liverpool to join our campaign against this policy, and get the council to think again.