I‘ve heard it said that anyone who believes that ‘you can’t take it with you’ has obviously never packed a car for a family camping holiday. In the same vein, the person who said ‘you can’t be too careful’ has clearly never tried to put on a fund raiser in a community hall or organise any kind of public entertainment, regardless of how small and localised it might be.
Because the bureaucracy you have to clamber through to get the necessary permissions would do Sir Humphrey proud. Labyrinthine is too small a word for it. That’s because if what you’re planning to do is licensable, by which we mean pretty well anything you might want to put on in the field of entertainment, down to and including school discos, magic shows, showing children’s films to a toddler group, putting on a Punch and Judy show or even, if you run a bar or restaurant, having a pianist in the corner tapping out moody and barely audible Cole Porter improvisations, you need a licence.
2,640 words to help keep you out of jail
If you or I wanted to apply for one in, let’s say, Westminster (chosen simply because it is where I’m sitting as I write this), you would need to:
- Fill out a form with nine questions about yourself, and provide short prose pieces on the nature of the premises to be used and the event you are planning (you may need to provide the Ordnance Survey grid reference for the venue if the address is unclear, by the way);
- Answer further questions on what ‘licensable activities’ you have in mind, including the precise times when it will all be happening and – a particular favourite of mine, for which you’ll need to take a deep breath before you start: ‘the maximum number of people at any one time you that you intend to allow to be present at the premises during the times when you intend to carry on licensable activities’; and finally
- Discuss your – and your ‘associates and business colleagues’ history of licence applications, with particular reference to ‘events in the same calendar year’, before signing on the dotted line (noting the friendly advice that you could get six months inside and\or a £20,000 fine if you stray from the licensing straight and narrow).
Then you send two copies and the relevant fee to the Town Hall, and a separate copy to the police. But don’t worry if you get confused, because they also provide 17 notes to help you out, running to a modest 2,640 words between them.
So are you absolutely sure you want to put on that film show for the toddlers?
Crime, nuisance, harm and safety
Now let’s be clear. This is not, of course, intended as any kind of reproach on Westminster City Council, who are simply applying the rules. The real point is that the rules themselves are out of all proportion to the thing they are trying to regulate. Indeed, some decadent souls might even go as far as to say that it’s not so much a case of them being out of proportion, but that we don’t really need any rules for a lot of this sort of thing at all.
And what do I think? A sane and civilised society needs some sort of regulation – it’s right and proper that we do what we can to prevent crime and public nuisance, protect children from harm and generally keep an eye on public safety, but a tipping point can swiftly be crossed when the bureaucrats get on the case. So we’re consulting on all this with a starting point that if there’s no good reason for preventing something, our presumption should be that it be allowed. Do let us have your views but, in the meantime, don’t even think about having fun in public unless you’ve done the relevant paperwork.