Memorandum submitted by Equity
1. Equity is the trade union representing 37,000 actors, performers and other creative professionals working in the UK. This includes many thousands of individuals who work in forms of live entertainment covered by the Licensing Act 2003, such as singers, variety artists, circus performers and performers in theatres.
2. For this reason we have followed the development and implementation of the Act very closely. Equity was one of the key stakeholders that provided input to Government before and during the parliamentary process. We have also has worked with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as well as Arts Council England, local authorities and industry bodies on appropriate licensing rules and guidance.
3. We welcome this timely examination of the Act. This response does not address all of the issues that are the subject of the Committee's inquiry, but will focus of the key areas of interest for Equity members and their experience of the current regime.
4. The terms of reference for this inquiry refer to the impact of the Act on the performance of live music. However it is important to remember that this legislation refers to all forms of "regulated entertainment". While this certainly includes live music, it is also crucially important to remember that this definition covers everything from theatre and circus performances, to the street performances and Punch and Judy shows.
5. Consequently, in order to reflect the range of entertainment affected by the Act, this response suggests that the inquiry should be able to consider the impact on regulated entertainment more broadly. Indeed this response will seek to address these points.
6. As the Committee will be aware, the Licensing Act 2003 replaced nine former licensing regimes in order to regulate the sale and supply of alcohol, the provision of entertainment and the sale of late night refreshments. This included the end of the Public Entertainment Licence (PEL), with the introduction of a Premises Licence, with one licence now covering all permissions required by licensed premises. It also allowed an establishment to acquire up to 12 Temporary Event Notices (TENS) per year.
7. The Act also abolished the two performer exemption (the two-in-a-bar rule); repealed the need for renewal (the licence is in place for the lifetime of the establishment); centralised the fee structure and ensured that all regulated entertainment was a licensable activity. Potential licensees no longer had to apply to the local magistrates as licensing became the responsibility of the licensing authority. However, these authorities are obliged to consult "interested parties", including people living in the area, other businesses and appropriate trade associations.
8. There is also an "incidental music" exemption included in the Act, which is explained in the Statutory Guidance to the Act issued by the Secretary of State. However the extent and manner in which this has been applied is unclear to performers.
9. All of these changes were required to be consistent with the Government's four licensing objectives.
- The prevention of crime and disorder.
- Public safety.
- The prevention of public nuisance.
- The protection of children from harm.
IMPACT OF THESE CHANGES
10. There has been a range of research that has sought to asses the impact of the Licensing Act on music and live entertainment. These include research commissioned by DCMS, the work of the Live Music Forum and feedback sought by the Musicians' Union. Equity has also engaged in extensive consultation with its members, and has recently launched a further survey of venues and performers, in order to assess the impact of licensing and other factors on the availability of live entertainment.
11. So far this research has been largely inconclusive and overall it appears to suggest that the impact of the Act has been broadly neutral. There has been no explosion of live entertainment as predicted by optimistic Ministers and officials. Equally it has not been the disaster for the future of live music and entertainment that some had expected.
12. Nevertheless, it does appear that small venues appear less likely to put on entertainment and a range of factors mean that many of the traditional live entertainment venues are finding it difficult to survive. Recent research by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that 1,200 pubs closed last year, with a further 2,000 expected to close this year.
13. This cannot (and has not) been attributed to a single factor, such as licensing. It is more likely a combination of the economic downturn, the smoking ban, rising drink prices and in some cases a change in the culture of live entertainment. However, Equity is aware of cases where the cost and bureaucracy involved in licensing is being cited. Equity will be happy to provide the Committee with findings of its research into these matters when this is available later in the year.
KEY PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED
14. Equity maintains that it was unfortunate that the licensing regime for entertainment was consolidated into the 2003 Act, along with the rules covering the sales and supply of alcohol and the sale of late night refreshment.
15. We believe that this approach was unhelpful because many of the local authorities who were required to implement the Act were understandably focussed on the impact of these changes on late-night drinking and potential public order problems. In a sense local authorities were encouraged to approach the Act in this way, due to the four "licensing objectives" laid down by the Government, as outlined above.
16. These are undoubtedly important objectives, but on the whole they are not problems that occur in the provision of entertainment. They are much more closely related to the sort of public order issues associated with the supply of alcohol.
17. However, as a result of the introduction of the Licensing Act many Equity members have found that local authorities have begun to associate the provision of entertainment with possible public order problems, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support any such link. Yet as a consequence we are aware of significant anecdotal evidence of cases where applications for a licence to put on regulated entertainment have been refused, due to public order concerns.
18. Equity members find this link confusing and illogical. Moreover there were already robust health and safety regulations in place at venues prior to the Act and the police already had power to summarily close disorderly premises. From the point of view of live entertainment this objective is largely irrelevant.
19. The Licensing Act has also caused problems for some specific groups of our members who do not work at a single premises or site, but are engaged in travelling entertainment. This includes some of our most traditional kinds of entertainment, which the Act was not originally intended to cover, such as circuses, outdoor theatre and Punch and Judy shows. These shows are able to reach communities that may otherwise be limited in the extent of live performance available.
20. Prior to the introduction of the Licensing Act these types of travelling entertainment did not require a licence. Indeed at the start of the process to review the licensing laws, it appeared that this would remain the situation. It was only very late in the process that it became clear that they would be subject to the new rules covering "regulated entertainment".
21. Consequently circuses now have to get a separate licence for every single new site they go to - which can be as many as 40 each season. They also have problems if a site becomes unavailable at the last minute, as alternative sites will not ordinarily have a licence and it takes at least a further 28 days to arrange one.
22. We are aware of a number of examples of problems of circuses being booked to play at licensed sites, but being forced instead to close completely for a period due to wet weather, rather than using an alternative venue. This affects large circuses as well as smaller ones; among a number of examples, Zippo's Circus has been turned away from sites for this reason and been unable to rearrange a last minute alternative as it would have done in the past.
23. Equity welcomes the recent proposal by DCMS to enable venues to make small changes to licences through a new "minor variation" application process. This has the potential to make it easier for those establishments with a Premises Licence to simply add licensable activities, such as live music or other kinds of performance. This technical measure should assist in reducing bureaucracy and encouraging entertainment.
24. We also believe that there should be a review to consider the impact of licensing on the sort of travelling entertainment that never previously required a licence (such as street performance and circus). This should explore the possibility of an exemption for entertainment of this type, or at least explore simpler ways of licensing entertainment that does not take place within a fixed premises. This may include consideration of allowing travelling entertainment to operate under an annual licence, providing them with greater freedom to perform on a basis agreed with local authorities.
25. The research that has been done and the evidence that is available also means that there is a case for an exemption for venues with small capacity, which could be considered to be low-risk. Following on from the research carried out by MORI and the Live Music Forum we strongly believe that there is a clear case for such an exemption to be introduced for such "micro-venues".
26. This would need to be backed up with a more uniform approach to enforcement, which will help performers and venues have a clearer idea of where they stand. We welcome the Government's recent indication that it is considering such an amendment and Equity would hope to be consulted by the DCMS as it seeks to take this matter forward with interested parties.
27. Equity is pleased to have the opportunity to contribute this inquiry and hopes that the Committee will consider the points made - particularly in relation to the reported impact of the changes in licensing on small venues; the spurious link between entertainment and public order problems; and the impact of licensing on forms of travelling entertainment.
28. We would also hope that the Committee would lend its support to measures aimed at reducing bureaucracy and consider carefully the case for reclassifying small venues. These changes would help to improve the licensing regime, so it made more sense for the world of entertainment.
29. We would welcome the opportunity to provide further evidence to the Select Committee on this issue. As the representative organisation of actors, singers, comedians, and other creative contributors we believe that we could provide a valuable perspective on the inquiry.