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Protect Busking Culture in the West End by Responding to Council’s Consultation

The MU has serious concerns over Westminster City Council's recently published consultation and its potential effects on busking. Members are encouraged to have their say by responding to the council’s consultation.

Published: 12 October 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:31 PM
Photograph of a busker playing outdoors on a guitar on a busy street, the focus is on the amplifier with the performer blurred in the background.
Buskers cannot afford to have their livelihoods taken away from them at a time when the arts are going through their biggest crisis in living memory. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Westminster City Council have amended their previously released consultation due to complaints from residents and local businesses that the proposal did not go far enough. The council have now suggested adding a number of new areas where it would now be illegal to busk without a licence, including Covent Garden which would be a devastating blow to the busking community if this proposal is agreed.

The new licensing rules would also outlaw busking by any non-UK resident , as well as requiring buskers to provide the council with two forms of identification and a declaration of unspent convictions. We find this approach unnecessary and invasive.

Buskers cannot afford to have their livelihoods taken away from them at a time when the arts are going through their biggest crisis in living memory and where busking is one of the only ways a musician is able to earn money.

The MU, Equity, Keep Streets Live, the Westminster Street Performers Association, the Covent Garden Street Performers Association and the Busking Project have released a joint statement regrading the new proposal.

Our joint statement

We stand firmly against the proposals to criminalise unlicensed busking in the Westminster area, including Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square.

We have attempted to engage with the council throughout the process and suggested proven, viable alternatives. It will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of street entertainers in the area and their families if the proposed licensing scheme is introduced.

When people think of Covent Garden, they immediately think of the world-class levels of entertainment that are on offer in the form of street performers. When people think of the West End, they think of the amazing artistic and cultural scene that exists here. But these restrictions will make the West End essentially a “no-go zone” for buskers.

Anti-social busking benefits nobody, and we are not suggesting a free-for-all. But current legislation can easily be used against buskers causing a genuine nuisance. There are laws in place against amplification being used late at night, for example. The council claim a lack of resources and yet are setting aside over £200,000 over the next three years to implement a licence scheme that could be better spent on implementing the laws they’re currently ignoring.

During the worst crisis for the arts in living memory, we call on Westminster Council to scrap their plans for licensing and work with street performers to create a system that works for everyone.

Signed by:

The Musicians’ Union
Keep Streets Live
Covent Garden Street Performers Association
Westminster Street Performer Association
The Busking Project

Responding to the consultation

The consultation responses will inform next steps and any changes to future policy. We encourage members to have their say by responding to the consultation on Westminster City Council’s website before 1 November 2020.

If you're not sure what to include in your response, you're welcome to copy or rewrite our main concerns:

  • Removing the majority of amplified busking spots means most musicians will be unable to perform in those areas.
  • The council claim a lack of resources but are looking to spend £200,000 on introducing this scheme when current legislation can easily be used against buskers causing a genuine nuisance.
  • Busking is legal on public land and the council already have laws in place to apprehend buskers who are not adhering to the Busk In London code. Extra licensing conditions are unnecessarily restrictive and will be to the detriment of buskers.

If you are a busker in Westminster and have any concerns or questions, please contact your Regional Office. You can also contact the Westminster Street Performers' Association through their website.

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