UK Music Reveals Huge Support To Exempt Small Music Venues From Licensing Act Red Tape

12 months since the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) launched a consultation to exempt small live music events from the bureaucracy of the Licensing Act, UK Music outlines huge support to exempt small music venues from Licensing Act red tape.

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31.12.2010: Today (31st December) marks exactly 12 months since the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) launched a consultation to exempt small live music events from the bureaucracy of the Licensing Act.¹

Given the lack of Parliamentary timetable, UK Music and others – including Opposition politicians – voiced considerable doubts that this consultation would be a worthwhile exercise.²

And so it came to pass.

When the General Election was called on April 6th there was no time to evaluate submissions, never mind enact amendments to legislation.

Regrettably, over six months later – and despite a commitment from the Coalition Government to “cut red tape” around live music – we are still waiting.

The hopes of campaigners remain pinned to the Private Members Bill of Lord Clement Jones³, currently awaiting its Second Reading in the House Of Lords.

However, in order to aid Government in its decision making, UK Music has returned to the original DCMS consultation.

And we are pleased to report that of the 181 respondents who expressed an opinion, 74% were in favour of an exemption for small music venues, including some Local Authorities.⁴

The position of those favouring an exemption is perhaps best summarised by Oxford City Council who, in welcoming the proposal, stated:

“We believe that the proposal fully reflect the need for small venues to provide live music should they chose in order to generate much needed streams of revenue and provide much needed diversity. The measures proposed to uphold the licensing objectives seem to be both proportionate and fair.”

Commenting on the findings, Feargal Sharkey, CEO of UK Music said:

“While delighted that an overwhelming number of respondents wanted small venues to be exempt from the red tape of the Licensing Act, there is immense frustration that we are still waiting for the Coalition to deliver on their promises.

“Live music is part of this country’s DNA. It stitches communities together. And, particularly in the current economic climate, it remains a vital part of the livelihood of musicians, pubs, clubs, bars and a host of other businesses.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of Lord Clement-Jones, there is a Private Members Bill in motion that could remove this barrier to progress. However, the Licensing Minister has the power to meet his stated commitment within 40 days. I hope he can take the overwhelming message of this belated consultation onboard: give power back to local communities, liberate small scale live music and take it out of the Licensing Act.”

That the current Licensing Act is hurting small scale live music is beyond doubt. This has been the conclusion of eight previous consultations, two Government research projects, two national review processes and a Parliamentary Select Committee.

An exemption for small premises would not only help young emerging artists and jobbing musicians, but also the livelihood of pubs, clubs, bars and village halls.⁵

The Coalition Government’s Manifesto, published in May 2010, included a commitment to “cut red tape to encourage the performance of more live music”.⁶

That commitment now forms part of a published DCMS Business Plan.⁷

Meanwhile, in June 2010, Licensing Minister John Penrose reportedly told the House of Commons he was “committed to moving as fast and as positively as we can towards better arrangements for the performance of live music in small venues”,  and that an announcement on this was imminent.⁸

The UK music industry continues to believe that live music has a positive impact on society.

For the benefit of local communities and the greater good of our economy, small scale live music should be exempt from the Licensing Act.




4 See “Further Details” for methodology





Further details

A. The consultation on a proposal to exempt small live music events from the requirements of the Licensing Act 2003 received 243 non-confidential responses.

181 of these declared a clear opinion as to whether they favoured an exemption.

Of those in favour of an exemption:

•62 wanted an exemption for premises up to 100 person capacity

•16 wanted an exemption, but did not state what size of premises

•56 wanted an exemption for premises of more than a 100 person capacity

Of those against an exemption

•43 were against an exemption for premises up to a 100 person capacity

•4 were against an exemption but did not state what size of premises

62 respondents either did not offer a definitive opinion on an exemption, or their response data was corrupted. For example, responses from: Mark Butler, Ian Chandler, Leamington Music, Pink Unicorn & Tim Wall.

B. Prior to the Licensing Act 2003, any two musicians could play in a bar without formal approval. The 2003 Act merged nine different licensing schemes into a single premises licence.

The Government stated at the time that a more streamlined licensing approach would lead to an increase in live music. Lord McIntosh of Haringey, the then DCMS Spokesperson in the House of Lords, told the House on 3 26 Nov 2002: “My view is that there will be an explosion of live music as a result of removing the discriminatory two-in-a-bar provision.”

However, the practical result was that removing the two-in-a-bar rule meant that pretty much any performance of live music, no matter how small, required a licence.

C. In 2004, Government made a commitment to undertake an independent evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act on the performance of live music. Feargal Sharkey was appointed Chair of the Live Music Forum which reported in July 2007.

The report found that “overall…the Licensing Act has had a neutral effect on the UK’s live music scene. Indeed, the new laws have delivered many benefits – for example, by removing the separate fee for live music and the annual renewal process. But while larger venues have seen the benefits of the new laws, some particularly small establishments have experienced difficulties.”

D. UK Music has contested the accuracy of DCMS data in terms of live music. Indeed, Government’s own research shows there has been a decrease in live music in small scale venues. British Market Research Bureau’s research, commissioned by DCMS, showed that there has been a 5% decrease in the provision of live music in secondary live music venues since Government’s baseline survey was conducted in 2004 (from 47% in 2004 to 42% in 2007).

E. The Licensing Act and Live Music

Since 2004, the Licensing Act has come under increased scrutiny in terms of grass roots live music, with continued calls for an exemption.

In 2009, the Culture Media & Sport Select Committee report on the Licensing Act declared: “We are concerned at the linkage of live music and public order issues by the Licensing Act and its accompanying guidance, and we emphasise that music should not automatically be treated as a disruptive activity which will inevitably lead to nuisance and disorder…To encourage the performance of live music we recommend that the Government should exempt venues with a capacity of 200 persons or fewer from the need to obtain a licence for the performance of live music. We further recommend the reintroduction of the two-in-a-bar exemption, enabling venues of any size to put on a performance of non-amplified music by one or two musicians.”

F. Calls by UK Music and its members such as the Musicians Union to exempt small venues have been supported by the British Beer & Pub Association –

Research carried out by PRS for Music found that pubs that provide music take on average 44% more money than pubs without music, rising to 60% more at the weekend. Live music was found to be the  greatest draw with one in four publicans reported increases in takings of between 25%-50% on nights when they have live music compared to other nights.

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