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August 09 2012

Buskers campaign against new policy in Liverpool

Rules that clamp down on street performers are causing concern that Merseyside's street culture is being needlessly regulated under the the banner of 'business improvement.' Christian Eriksson challenges its basis

Up and down the country, corporate bodies called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are increasingly administering urban centres, offering their paying members privileged access to unelected officials who are literally 'on call' to take their grievances directly to policy makers. In the case of Liverpool City Council's recent decision to regulate busking and street entertainment, we find a lesson in the pitfalls of charging unnaccountable bodies with directing democracy on the public's behalf.

Would-be performers in Liverpool city centre must now sign up to a mandatory licensing scheme and obtain a photo ID card before they can book a two hour slot to play in council-designated pitches. The scheme requires that entertainers be bound by a number of restrictive terms and conditions. These range from entertainers being forbidden to sit on the floor or occupy a pitch more than 1.5 metres in a diameter, to a clause granting council officials the right to stop a performance purely on the grounds of personal taste - turning enforcement officers into what one busker describes as "a poor man's Simon Cowell". Any person failing to comply with these terms and conditions will be issued with a letter threatening prosecution for trespass.

In essence, Liverpool's policy is an attempt to bring busking and street performance under the remit of the 2003 Licensing Act, despite clear statements published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2006 that busking is not a licensable activity under that legislation. The legally-questionable nature of Liverpool's policy does not end there, for it attempts to make it an offence for anybody under the age of 18 to busk, despite central government guidelines clearly stating that busking is permitted for anybody over the age of 14.

Accounts from buskers suggest that the policy was pushed through council meetings, with their recommendations flatly ignored. Jonny Walker, a Liverpool-born busker and singer-songwriter, was involved in the council's consultation process:

I was invited by officials to look at the proposed policy. I had major issues with it and was asked to prepare a report with suggestions for how to improve it. My report was ignored and no changes were made to the policy which was then rubber stamped at a council meeting.


Once he realized his views had not been taken into account in the finished policy, Walker started a petition which has garnered more than 3,000 signatures to date and launched a campaign to urge the council to rethink its policy. The campaign has gained the backing of the Musician's Union.

Diane Widdison, national organiser of the union, has said that Liverpool City Council did not consult them regarding the new policy:

The Musician's Union are happy to help the council put together a best practice guide for buskers. We would suggest a working party which includes street artists and performers so we can agree on a guide which is acceptable to both sides. We do not agree with making the process overly bureaucratic or too restrictive for no good reason.



Liverpool city council responds:

In essence, we are trying to balance the needs of all the people who use the city centre – shoppers, visitors, people who work there and buskers.

While there may be claims that there is a lot of opposition to the policy, it has also been welcomed by many people, especially on grounds of reducing noise and ending repetitive songs.

The council adds that the idea is also to be being fairer to all buskers and potential buskers by preventing the same ones hogging pitches for hours on end.

It is also important to note that the policy will be reviewed in three months and a panel including buskers, representatives from the musician unions and other interested parties will meet before the end of August to discuss the policy.

The council stresses that the regulations are not an attempt to stop busking, but to provide a balance between the different people using the city.

The elected member in charge of the policy, Coun Steve Munby, Liverpool's cabinet member for neighbourhoods, has claimed that the policy was crafted to deal with the many complaints the council receives
from businesses and shoppers about noise levels, repetitive performances and the number of buskers at certain times.

Munby says that buskers add "animation and colour to the centre" but on some Saturdays, there have been 12 performers in a short stretch of Church Street competing "in effect for limited cash." He added that having a regulated system for street entertainment is in the best interests of buskers, businesses, shoppers and other city centre users and brings Liverpool into line with other major cities.

Ged Gibbons, CEO of Liverpool's City Central BID and champion of the new policy, says:

This new busking policy is hugely welcome and will make a real difference to the vibrancy of the city centre


and has claimed to have received regular telephone complaints from the likes of M&S and Primark about troublesome buskers. In the same vein, minutes from the council Cabinet's agenda in which the policy's terms and conditions can be found, describe the policy as crafted to deal with long-standing "complaints from businesses, residents and others".

However, information acquired under Freedom of Information legislation shows that as of November 2011 the number of city shopkeepers who formally complained to the Council to regulate buskers/street performers was so low that the council themselves do not bother to record complaints:

[...] due to the immediate nature of the complaint the majority of complainants simply draw the matter to our street Nuisance Officers but do not formally complain. Subsequently the licensing department do not formally record the number of complaints they receive regarding buskers/street performers.

And why do affected retailers not formally complain? The answer, in short, is that they do not need to. That is what Liverpool's City Central BID is for.

Around 650 businesses currently make up the BID, and each pays a levy on top of their business rates to fund it. Besides extra cleaning, care and security, this levy effectively grants businesses an amplified voice in local democracy. Like BIDs in other British cities, Liverpool's is a quasi-governmental corporate body which works with local authorities, but is not wholly accountable to them. Karen Lappin, Store Manager for Liverpool's Blacks, explains what you get with membership into Liverpool's City Central BID:

Ged [Gibbons] will come round, one of the team will come round, and they'll sit down and ask how they can help you.


Critics of the new busking policy argue that with its access to policymakers, Liverpool's City Central BID has hastily embarked upon the needless regulation of Liverpool's street performance culture under the banner of 'business improvement'.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




May 08 2012

Sea Odyssey's vast puppets bring more to Liverpool than the Grand National

Merseyside's recent spectacular show illustrates how street theatre and public art can attract vast crowds. The north west's industrial heritage is doing the same. Alan Sykes reports

Two new reports highlight the value of cultural tourism to the economy of the north west of England. Last month's 'Sea Odyssey' street theatre jamboree in Liverpool is reckoned to have brought in £12m in extra spending by the vast crowds which thronged the city streets. Meanwhile, an estimated £11m was spent in the last year by people visiting industrial heritage attractions throughout the region.

For 'Sea Odyssey', the city's Business Improvement District managers estimate that their core area of the city centre alone saw a footfall just shy of 1,000,000 people over that weekend – 53% more than for the Grand National a week earlier. As well as those watching the event itself, visitors poured into shops, restaurants and other attractions which saw significant rises in custom – the Walker Art Gallery was 145% up on the previous year, the Maritime Museum was up 130% and Merseytravel, who laid on an extra ferry for people wanting to watch the giants sail down the Mersey, handled an extra 143% of passengers.

Councillor Wendy Simon, Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism at Liverpool City Council, says:

"We always knew this would be a huge weekend for the city, but 'Sea Odyssey' exceeded our expectations in terms of the crowd numbers and their reaction to the show. An independent report on the impact of Sea Odyssey is now being put together with final figures available within the next couple of months."


The city council certainly believes it got value for money for the £1.5m it cost to commission the French street theatre outfit Royale de Luxe to put on the event.


Meanwhile, a similar contribution to the region's economy, albeit in a more widespread and low key way, is claimed for the industrial heritage attractions spread throughout the area.

For the last year, Visit Manchester, working with the other tourist boards in the North West, has been managing a project called Modern History, an ERDF-funded project aimed at promoting around 100 of the North West's industrial heritage attractions, including Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, Cumbria's Honister Slate Mine and the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire. The research shows that mines, mills and transport systems that have been converted into visitor attractions are increasing the tourism revenue of the region. Honister, for example, which continues to produce the Westmorland green slate that was probably mined there in Roman times, now offers a via ferrata climbing path – giddily strung from a cliff-face and shortlisted for this year's Enjoy England awards - to go with the mine tours and slate sales.


The report shows that an extra 24,000 day visits and over 5000 overnight stays throughout the North West were generated by the campaign. Lisa Houghton, marketing manager for Modern History, is quoted in the Manchester Evening News saying:

The north west was instrumental in moving the world into the industrial age and the rich stories that surround this period are still relevant today – as the high visitor levels reflect. The research proves what a hard-working campaign Modern History has been and we are confident that even though the project has come to an end, it leaves a strong legacy that will continue to drive footfall to our wonderful attractions and museums for years to come.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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