The public meeting on March 1st at Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Edinburgh, about new legislation changes due to come into effect on 1st of April, received a very strong turnout. A number of people were able to ask questions after panel members (listed below) had spoken briefly on their view of the current Public Entertainment Licence (PEL) fee legislation and how it can / should be applied and amended.
Unsurprisingly, the basic agreement among all those who spoke and, indeed – judging by the reactions from all those who didn’t speak – from everyone present, was that licence fees for small-scale arts and community events are completely unjustifiable. The legislation at Scottish Government level was intended to deal with large-scale events where greater Health and Safety controls may well be helpful, however the wording of the legislation leaves local authorities without sufficient guidance on implementing changes. It is, however, down to local councils as to how they go about putting the legislation into practice, and different councils are dealing with different ‘resolutions’ – lists of events covered by licensing. More on ‘resolutions’ later.
Dangers mentioned about such a licence fee system covered the stifling of both spontaneous and longer-term planned events within grassroots arts and communities due to the necessary effort and heavy admin involved in applying, the time necessary for gaining a license, the sheer daunting prospect of even attempting such applications and the money involved when there is no monetary return (with some hilarity following mention of a notion – thankfully dismissed prior to this meeting – of putting in a fee structure that depends upon the ‘success’ of an event).
There were further considerations also: that legislation for the arts is state interference in what must remain free expression and that, whatever the reasons for such legislation and the intentions at this time, such legislation creates the possibility of future political interference tantamount to censorship.
A major theme, recurring throughout the meeting, was a call for clarity – both from the Scottish Government to assist councils and from councils to state what is actually involved in applying for a licence and the penalty if one does not. Such clarity has yet to be established, but this is…
Where matters currently stand
Councillor Rob Munn, Convener of City of Edinburgh Council Regulatory Committee, said that the road he would like to see taken would reach a point where this Public Entertainment Licence would not be applied to the grassroots arts and community events discussed. En route, however, the current advice to the Council from ‘officers’ – apparently advising on legal implications – is that a licence must be required and so, attempting to address this, the Council is considering an interim measure of non-fee licences. As was immediately made clear in responses, this does not in any way address the immense problem of the administration in such form-filling, the application time before grant of licence and the seriously off-putting affect that such a measure would have, temporary or otherwise.
Councillor Munn stressed that his presence at the meeting was so that he could feedback to the Council, and everyone else stressed that this temporary measure is unacceptable and that should be what he feeds back. When questioned as to why Glasgow could decide not to enforce the new legislation immediately – a temporary measure that has not resolved the issue, but which allows time for a review – Councillor Munn focused on each council’s resolution being different. These resolutions are, apparently, a list of events previously covered by licensing and they differ nationwide. This means that there is, perhaps, no single solution that would suit every council – each area must look at the events that they have on their list. It is for this kind of review to take place that the temporary measure of licences for which one does not pay has been suggested.
However, the need for such a measure was not fully clear. It was felt that there is time before 1st April for the Council to amend their ‘resolution’, taking off the events in question so that they would not be affected by the new legislation. Also, why can these events – if they cannot be immediately removed from the resolution – not be exempted, this being a power the Council reputedly has?
In the end, further action depends on the outcome of the meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council Regulatory Committee scheduled for 9th March. It is possible for a deputation to address their concerns to this meeting – a matter that went to further discussion after the meeting had ended, so watch out for information on that.
Suggestions for action should the result of the Committee’s meeting not be satisfactory include flooding the Council with licence applications come April Fool’s Day (something that may be rather harsh for staff and Councillors, such as Rob Munn, who are also against such increased bureaucracy) and the opposite: simply ignoring any such requirements and so operating ‘illegally’ – something many seem prepared to do if forced, but there was also strong indication that people would rather stay within the law. A practical, pro-active suggestion – from Chair Neil Cooper – was to put on the very events under discussion over the week-end 31st March and 1st April, without licences: for more on this, see the ‘What can YOU do?’ section below.
This is a basic overview (written up in the early hours of the morning) of what I, Danielle Farrow of Discover Fine Acting, understood of the meeting and it does not do justice to the passion, dedication, intelligence and concern of those present.
All those that spoke, panelists and speakers from the floor, are worthy of attention. This is what I can pass on:-
Morvern Cunningham – Grassroots arts promoter and organiser of LeithLate; spoke of how such legislation would impact on the events with which she has been involved and later put forward the important exemption suggestion, which there was not then time to discuss
Neil Mulholland – Head of Postgraduate Programmes and Visual Culture, Edinburgh College of Art; looked at context: the importance of grassroots culture for expression and participation, and human rights issues / interference of state in cultural activity
Chloe Dear – Independent Creative Producer; gave a quick – and very useful – rundown of major items involved in applying for a Public Entertainment Licence, making it very clear how arduous a task this is and how unlikely producers of our small-scale events are to be able to tackle this, even should they be wiling to try
Kevin Williamson – Founder of literary cabaret club Neu! Reekie! (author of article in the Evening News on this issue); spoke of how art and state should be entirely separate – with an amusing story about pigs’ heads and live pornography ridiculing establishment – and warned of the threat of censorship, saying that grassroots arts are about ‘telling truth to power’
Malcolm Chisholm MSP – Member of Scottish Parliament for Leith; raised the issue of unfortunate wording and need for guidance from the Scottish Government to assist councils in implementing these licensing changes, so that the discretion councils can employ in this matter should be very clear; stated that he would be making a big issue of the matter with his colleagues, while he also felt that in the month before April 1st there is opportunity for the Council to act
Councillor Rob Munn – Convener of City of Edinburgh Council Regulatory Committee; see main post – he does seem to be focusing on arts events not requiring licence fees: hopefully this will be a focus of the Council as a whole, and without an ‘interim’ measure which only deals with monetary considerations and not artistic and administration ones
Neil Cooper, Chair of the meeting – Chief Theatre Critic of The Herald; set the scene, including events ongoing at time and difference that has been in place between those events that require licences and those that may soon do so; picked up on need for clarity right at the start and made sure a number of people were able to speak from the floor
Points made by speakers from the floor
The ‘interim’ measure advised is ‘wishy-washy’ – need set action soon for all events already planned; this legislation can push artists, etc. out of Edinburgh; education and higher values are involved here, arts not solely ‘entertainment’; real threat of what this legislation could mean further down the line, when a political company applies for a licence – possibility of politically motivated refusal / censorship; there is some point in comparing Edinburgh and Glasgow Councils – the latter is felt to support grassroots culture, while the former needs to work on this, including making council property available, perhaps – echoed by an ECA student re. needing spaces, including from the council: wants to know has future HERE, in Edinburgh, or will go elsewhere (Dumfries and Galloway, perhaps, which does not include arts events in its resolution!); the arts are already self-regulated (through risk assessments, Public Liability Insurance, etc.), so little worth to claims about there being a need to licence for insurance reasons (Chloe Dear had also mentioned that insurance is another matter, not part of PEL)
Particular points, where I caught the organisations represented:
Tightlaced Theatre – need to know the nuts and bolts of this (clarification!), including what ‘temporary’ actually means, what ‘temporary’ form-filling actually involves, how grassroots organisations are, in practical terms, to deal with this, and what the penalty is for not doing so (see also A Little April Foolery)
Rhubarba Gallery – clarification needed; ‘due notice’ promised, yet won’t know what in place till after meeting of 9th March, so where is this before April 1st?; wants to be operating within the law; there has been a lack of consultation; this is a chance to look at licensing as a whole and improve it overall
Word of Mouth Cafe – impossible to manage the admin involved in applying for licence when already working 50hrs a week; spaces such as this won’t fit regulations; this means loss of great resources
Song, by Toad Records – grassroots organisers provide the environment that grows commercially viable talent and that growth relies on the ‘miasma of people’ who create the grassroots events ‘for the love of it’ – not commercially viable in themselves and not likely to complete the admin obstacle course necessary with this legislation; any interference in this area will kill the important environment and cut off many of those who could go on to be commercially viable; these grassroots people need support and encouragement and not just in Fringe time
Big Things on the Beach – community initiative, where artists are invited to exhibit in locals’ gardens, sheds, etc., already feeling Council is not very encouraging of their efforts, and the complexity of such legislation will push it beyond what residents would sign up for, resulting in a real depression of grassroots culture and citizen participation; this is a chance for the Council to look at all policies that affect this level of cultural participation and start to encourage it
For background on this meeting and the uproar that began in Glasgow, see previous posts:
What can YOU do?
Get involved, anywhere in Scotland, having a great time with A Little April Foolery!
Keep abreast of what is happening about this issue in Edinburgh: http://www.facebook.com/groups/178277778942301/
Not in Edinburgh? Find out what is happening in your area – a good place to start is to…
Sign this petition, if you have yet to do so, and read its updates: http://www.change.org/petitions/scottish-councils-scrap-public-entertainment-licence-fees
And read: http://scrapartstax.wordpress.com/
Finally, respond to this blog / pass on the word about the information that is here!