Liverpool Leads the Way

Liverpool Leads the Way

Two years is a long time in street politics

What a difference a couple of years makes!

In the summer of 2012 Liverpool City Council caused consternation amongst the grassroots cultural community when they introduced a controversial busking policy placing severe restrictions on the right to perform music and art in public spaces within the city. Anybody wishing to busk in the city was to be required to pay a license and to purchase a minimum of £10 million worth of public liability insurance (Usually costing over £100). The policy included a ban on all under-18 performers and what was dubbed ‘the Simon Cowell clause’ which allowed any civic or police official the power to pull the plug on a performance on the grounds that ‘it was not of sufficient quality’. Most controversially unlicensed buskers were to be issued with threats of trespass prosecutions on the public highway for ‘unauthorised’ performances. The Keep Streets Live Campaign was born in opposition to these plans which would have made Liverpool perhaps the least-busker friendly city within the UK. Following a petition, street protests and a formal legal challenge, Liverpool Council listened to the concerns of the Keep Streets Live Campaign and dropped their old policy in September 2012.

Well over a year later in January 2014 the Keep Streets Live Campaign received an invitation from the City Council to participate in talks to design new guidance for busking in the city, this time with the full and active involvement of the wider busking community. An open invitation was issued to buskers to be part of the process and, over a period of 7 months, around 15 face to face meetings were held between buskers, the Musician’s Union, Liverpool BID Company and the City Council to produce guidance that all could agree upon.

One of the key aspects of the new guidance is the provisions for buskers to have regular open meetings both amongst the busking community and with the City Council to discuss issues as they arise. This is to help good relationships amongst buskers and to ensure that buskers and the Council remain engaged in a positive, ongoing dialogue.

Buskers will not be required to get a license before they perform in the city but instead asks them to be considerate and respectful of other users of shared public spaces, and in turn, asks businesses and public officials who have issues with buskers to let them know in a polite and considerate way. It marks a complete watershed in the way that busking is overseen within the City of Liverpool and ensures that this world famous music city is leading the way in its active encouragement of street culture.

Promoting Harmony on the Streets

The Guide to Busking in Liverpool has been produced as a joint initiative with Musicians’ Union (MU), Liverpool City Council, the Keep Streets Live Campaign and the Business Improvement District (BID).

The 12 page best practice guide advises buskers, council officers, businesses and residents on issues such as pitch selection, noise levels and the best way of resolving issues. A laminated advice card is also being produced which highlights guidance and recommendations.

This move represents a new approach to street entertainment in Liverpool. In 2012 a managed system of buskers with licensed pitches was to be introduced but was opposed by buskers and the MU and the idea was dropped.

It is anticipated that that the new guidance will help reduce the number of complaints and lead to those which continue being resolved amicably. It also sets out the procedures for enforcement should this prove necessary.

Morris Stemp, North of England Regional Organiser for the Musicians’ Union, said:

“This is a real achievement for all parties concerned, and I’d like to congratulate Liverpool City Council and the BID for engaging so actively with interested parties and organisations to be with us at the forefront of this initiative.

“The aim of the guide is to foster a vibrant street culture which allows for spontaneity whilst at the same time making provision for constructively resolving any issues that may arise using existing statutory powers, and is an example I anticipate many will want to follow. It also blows apart the myth that busking is in some way illegal.

“This is in stark contrast to some less pragmatic authorities and councils, where heavy handed regulation and over-zealous bureaucracy stifle self-expression. Buskers in Liverpool now have a guide that will help nurture music and other art forms on the streets, with all the benefits this will bring to the city, to buskers and to wider society.

“I believe that collaborations such as this, where street entertainment is rightly valued and encouraged, will be the future for busking in cities, towns and villages in this country. I would urge other authorities to follow Liverpool’s pragmatic approach and let us help them provide a landscape which nurtures the talents which our members can provide.”

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said;

“It represents an entirely new approach to busking in Liverpool, a city famous for its culture and music. By working together with the busking community we will bring our streets alive for the benefit of everyone.”

Councillor Steve Munby, cabinet member for neighbourhoods said:

“I think visitors to the city would be surprised and disappointed if they didn’t find a lively street music culture, given the city’s reputation. But we also know there are complaints from business and visitors about noise and obstructions so we have tried to balance the needs of all parties.

“I don’t mind making mistakes as long as we learn from them. We recognised that an imposed solution was never going to work so we have brought together a range of organisations to produce this guide. This has been a unique partnership which bodes well for the future of street entertainment. I’m really grateful to everyone who’s been involved.

“The guide sets out a positive way forward and if everybody follows the guidance in it we can have a thriving street culture based on good relationships.”

Jonny Walker, Founding director of the Keep Streets Live Campaignsaid:

“The collaborative approach that Liverpool City Council have modelled in putting together this busking guidance makes it a pioneer amongst major cities worldwide in its active support for grassroots street culture.

“The busking community has had the unique opportunity of working alongside the local authority, the BID and the Musicians’ Union to preserve the spontaneity and informality which is intrinsic to the nature of busking, whilst actively seeking to build good relationships between all those who share public space in the city. It is right that buskers should be closely involved in decisions that affect them and it is to Liverpool City Council’s immense credit that they chose to include the busking community at all stages in the production of this guidance.

“The busking community will continue to cooperate with the local authority to ensure the ongoing success of this new approach, and will hold a regular open buskers’ meeting which all are welcome to attend. We are confident that this guidance will help to harness the capacity of busking to transform the experience of shared public spaces in the city, and to continue to play its part in what makes Liverpool such a wonderful place to live, work and visit.”

Bill Addy, Chief Executive of Liverpool BID Company, said:

“We welcome the introduction of this guide. It brings some clarity as to what is expected of everyone to ensure the vibrancy of Liverpool city centre is a cause for celebration and not consternation. Street entertainment can be a huge added bonus to the appeal of a city centre and this guide is a very encouraging step forward in ensuring Liverpool gets the balance right for all parties.”

The new guidance is being introduced in September with the first open busker’s meeting due to take place on the evening of Tuesday 23rd September at 7pm at the Lomax. On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign I urge everyone who cherishes Liverpool’s vibrant street culture to come along, all are welcome.

Jonny Walker

Founding director, Keep Streets Live Campaign