By Lord Clement-Jones
After last year’s success with getting the Live Music Bill through Parliament and the deregulation of entertainment licensing, I am promoting another Bill to free grassroots arts from burdensome red tape.
My Cultural and Community Distribution Deregulation Bill – which will have its second reading in the Lords on Friday – would exempt small cultural and community events from the requirement to buy a leafleting licence.
Currently many events – including amateur theatres, jazz festivals and fetes – have to buy a council licence in order to promote their event with leaflets. In Basildon a licence costs £150 for one day (£350 for a Saturday or Sunday) and £800 for one week. Oldham charges £50 and Brent £55 per day, while Wolverhampton charges £262 per distributor.
Leafleting is the primary way in which grassroots events can reach a local audience, but they simply cannot afford these high fees.
The Manifesto Club report Leafleting – A Liberty Lost? found that 27% of councils restrict leafleting, including Nottingham, Leicester, Brighton, Swindon, Wolverhampton, Oxford, Bournemouth and Birmingham. The report also found that leafleting licences have damaged the music and arts scenes in key British cities, reducing the grassroots scene and limiting opportunities for emerging artists to win themselves an audience.
The campaign is backed by comedians Al Murray and Simon Evans, musicians Stuart Murdoch (singer, Belle and Sebastian) and Rick Wakeman, as well as organisations including Equity and the Musicians Union.
Councils claim this is about litter but it is highly questionable whether leafleting licence schemes – which are expensive to set up – save any money on street cleaning, especially since they favour big commercial operations who tend to leaflet less responsibly. A few well placed litter bins would tackle the problem more cheaply, without infringing upon public freedoms and stifling local events. We have a strong tradition of pamphleteers in this country who would be turning in their graves if they could see theatre groups charged hundreds of pounds to hand out a few flyers.
Political, religious and charitable events are exempt from the need to buy a leafleting licence, which means that small cultural events are unfairly penalised. It is unjust that the Church of England and political parties can leaflet for free, but the village fete or local theatre group must pay.
The grassroots arts are fundamental to community life and the local economy, as well as producing talent of international renown. The deregulation of entertainment licensing is great but groups need to be able to promote themselves. Unless we act quickly there will be irreparable damage done to the grassroots arts across the UK.
As David Mullholland of the Soho Comedy Club says: “Flyering is a life and death issue for small clubs that are just starting up. The birthplace of alternative comedy in the UK, the Comedy Store, started above a strip club in 1979 and relied heavily on flyers to attract audiences until 1993. If flyering had been prohibited in 1979 there would be no alternative comedy scene in the UK.”
I hope that on Friday the Government will listen to these arguments and respond favourably so we can mark another significant step towards deregulating grassroots arts event for the benefit of cultural and creative life in this country.
Here is the link to the Manifesto Club’s site with more information on the campaign and the Bill.