Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Kevin has turned Conservative

What's this? A (mostly) Conservative government doing things I like? But... the Tories are the enemy; I grew up believing they were evil, child-killing monsters who didn't squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom! Anyway, two good things they've done recently: one about their economic approach and the other to do with a consultation on entertainment licensing in village halls and similar venues [Kevin loses most of his readers to the sound of collective yawning...].

The economy, then. I wrote a while ago of my belief that the Government is not actually destroying the UK's public services. In a speech a week ago (full text of speech here) the chancellor, George Osborne, contrasted the UK Government's approach to that of some countries in mainland Europe. He said:
We had an emergency budget last summer on our own terms - not this summer on the market's terms - unlike so many other countries.

Contrast this with the Labour party's approach. They keep saying that cuts are needed (albeit at a slower rate) but they hardly seem to have identified any cuts that they'd actually make. Unless I've missed something, all their comments on the economy are along the lines of 'This is an ideologically-based cut that will cause much damage to the nation's public services'. So, Ed and Ed, what would you cut?

My second reason for singing the Government's praises is a much more niche issue that I noticed at work yesterday. Currently, village halls (run, usually on a shoestring budget, by a management committee of volunteers) have to get a premises licence if they want to put on entertainment for the public and if they wish to sell alcohol. The licence just covering entertainment (showing films, putting on plays, hosting dances etc.) is free but there's still a fair bit of administration involved, and it all contributes to the workload of, in the case of charitable village halls, volunteer trustees who may well be put off by all the red tape. So imagine my joy when I had an email on Monday about a Government consultation on simplifying the premises licensing procedures. I'm going to quote the foreword in full (with key parts picked out in bold) as I think it's a wonderfully clear statement of intent. Simple language, a clear summary of the current situation, and a straightforward statement of what the Government proposes to change:
At the moment, the law and regulations which require some (but not all) types of entertainment to be licensed are a mess. For example, you will need a licence if you want to put on an opera but not if you want to organise a stock car race. A folk duo performing in the corner of a village pub needs permission, but the big screen broadcast of an England football match to a packed barn-like city centre pub does not. An athletics meeting needs licensing if it is an indoor event, but not if it’s held outdoors. A free school concert to parents doesn’t need a licence, but would if there is a small charge to raise money for PTA funds or if there are members of the wider public present. A travelling circus generally needs a permit whereas a travelling funfair does not. A carol concert in a Church doesn’t need a licence, but does if it is moved to the Church Hall. There are many other examples where types of entertainment are treated differently for no good reason – the distinctions are inconsistent, illogical and capricious.

But they cause other problems too. Whenever we force local community groups to obtain a licence to put on entertainment such as a fundraising disco, an amateur play or a film night, the bureaucratic burden soaks up their energy and time and the application fees cost them money too. Effectively we’re imposing a deadweight cost which holds back the work of the voluntary and community sector, and hobbles the big society as well.

Equally importantly, the various musicians’ and other performers’ unions are extremely concerned that all these obstacles reduce the scope for new talent to get started, because small-scale venues find it harder to stay open with all the extra red tape. There is also evidence that pubs which diversified their offer to include activities other than drinking were better able to survive the recession. Making it easier for them to put on entertainment may therefore provide an important source of new income to struggling businesses such as pubs, restaurants and hotels.

Last but not least, laws which require Government approval for such a large range of public events put a small but significant dent in our community creativity and expression. If there’s no good reason for preventing them, our presumption should be that they should be allowed.

So this is a golden opportunity to deregulate, reduce bureaucratic burdens, cut costs, give the big society a boost and give free speech a helping hand as well. Our proposals are, simply, to remove the need for a licence from as many types of entertainment as possible. I urge you to participate in this consultation so that we can restore the balance.

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