Why we should scrap public entertainment licence fees

Kirstin Innes of Words Per Minute discusses the importance of tax-free arts performances

Why we should scrap public entertainment licence fees

Words Per Minute

For the last two years, I’ve run Words Per Minute, a mixed night of spoken word, live music, performance and short film. Every month, we present an ever-increasing audience with around seven ten-minute performances, by selected artists at the top of their game.

We charge £5 on the door: after the venue has taken their cut that’s usually just enough to cover our performers’ travel expenses and buy them all a drink. We don’t make a profit, but we never intended to. The point of WPM is to bring brilliant work to a wider audience. Our performers do it for the exposure, for the increased book or CD sales on our merchandise table and through our online presence; and because it’s always a really good night. At present we’re lucky to be based in the Arches, a venue with its own performance licence, but were we anywhere else, the new Criminal Justice and Licencing Act could have required Words Per Minute to pay a licence of around £300 per event, which would quickly put us out of business.

Glasgow’s creative community woke up first (made the most noise and won) about the new legislation due to hit in April, which states that all public events, on a spectrum from large-scale club nights to free poetry readings and exhibitions of paintings in flats or cafés, should pay a licence fee, to be set by the local area council.

But at the end of last month, Glasgow City Council moved to clarify their position, stating they would not now require a licence for events which are for a temporary period and are of a non-commercial nature. The committee also concluded that a six month review and consultation on how all forms of public entertainment are licenced in the city should be undertaken.

This is a wider, national issue, though. City of Edinburgh Council is already engaging with artists and campaigners about the issue; but there are fears that areas with less outspoken artistic communities may suffer. North Ayrshire Council has already announced that all free events in their jurisdiction will be subject to licencing fees.

Grassroots art events aren’t about profit, or asking for public funding: they’re about getting art to the people. As has been widely mentioned in coverage of the issue, events like this made all the difference to the development of Franz Ferdinand, Turner Prize-nominated Karla Black, and a huge proportion of people now integral to contemporary Scottish culture. Get involved: attend a meeting, sign the online petition, join the Facebook groups.

This is worth fighting for.

There’s a public meeting on Thu 1 Mar, Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 7pm, to discuss the Edinburgh issue with council representatives.

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