Churches, charities and community groups rejoice -Norfolk councils being consulted over Licensing Act shake-up

First up on the bonfire of red tape promised by the coalition government could be a law which has had parents, publicans, and parish clerks tearing their hair out for nearly a decade.

Bert Jobsworth must have thought all his birthdays had come at once when Labour amended the Licensing Act.

For dances, carol concerts and purveyors of Punch and Judy had been quietly going about their business for centuries, until Blair's mob decided they needed a licence.

Pianists in restaurants, brass bands playing in the park and school discos all became so-called 'regulated entertainment' under the 2003 act.

That'll be �21 for a licence for starters then. And hang on a minute - we'll have to check your non domestic rateable value with the Valuation Office (or you can do it yourself online but please check the guidance contained in Section 177 on the Office for Public Sector Information's website first).

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That's probably going to set you back another �100 - �600 then, depending on the variation multiplier which applies in your case. That means it could be quite a bit more if you're in band D or E. Yes, that's even if it's for charity I'm afraid.

And did you say you were serving wine in the interval..? That's classed as selling alcohol. That means you'll need a designated premises supervisor as well then. And they'll need a separate designated person's premises supervisor's licence.

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Wars, tuition fees, the economy, Gordon Brown - some of the things New Labour foisted on this sceptred isle were not universally popular.

But if there's one thing which had the Middle England of churches, charities and school PTAs hopping up and down like a box of frogs, it was the fact that all of a sudden, you needed a licence for just about anything someone, somewhere might enjoy.

There were one or two exemptions. But these just created inconsistencies which made the whole, sorry mess look even dafter.

You needed a licence if you wanted to stage an opera, for example. But you didn't need one to have a banger racing meeting.

No offence to the stock car fraternity, but they've probably got more health and safety issues than Steeple Bumpstead Amateur Dramatic Society putting on La Traviata at the church hall.

Did you say church..? Now there's a little minefield all of its own. Churches - as in places of worship - are exempt from Schedule One of the 2003 act. But church halls aren't. So if you have a carol concert in the former, you don't need a licence, but in the latter you do. Unless, of course, the two are connected, in which case you might.

Athletics..? Another tricky one that. You need a licence if it's held indoors, but not if it's held outdoors. But what if you have half indoors and half outdoors - or go inside for the prize presentations if it starts raining.

Broadcast big screen sport to a packed city centre pub and you don't need a licence. Have two or more hippies playing folk music and you do.

Hippies are not singled out by the act, by the way. The same goes for barber shop quartets, Welsh male voice choirs, reggae bands, Beatles tribute acts, school kids singing carols down the old folk's home, druids, magicians and even storytellers (who become subject to the provisions of the 2003 act if they wear a costume). You couldn't make it up, could you.

But now this story looks like it might just have a happy ending. Because it looks like someone's finally seen some sense.

Councils and other bodies across Norfolk and elsewhere are being consulted over proposals to reform Schedule One of the 2003 act. Reading between the lines 'de-regulation' is a likely prospect for just about everything.

'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,' admits the Tourism Minister John Penrose, in a report setting out the proposed changes.

'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.'

Our much-maligned village pub has been one victim of the wheelbarrow-load of red tape that now accompanies the mere mention of karaoke or the bloke that does a Neil Diamond tribute with his Mrs on piano.

'Making it easier for them to put on entertainment may provide an important source of new income to struggling businesses such as pubs, restaurants and hotels,' said Mr Penrose.

'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.'

The Department for Culture, media and Sport admits the 2003 act is 'a voluminous and highly complex piece of legislation'. Oh, really..? You don't say.

It also sees some clear benefits - which if you excuse the pun will be music to the ears of community groups the length and breadth of the land.

In the consultation paper, it goes on: 'Removing the need for proactive licensing for regulated entertainment could provide a great boost for community organisations, charities, cultural and sporting organisations, for artists and performers, for entertainment venues, and for those local institutions that are at the heart of every community, such as parent/teacher organisations, schools and hospitals.'

It would also be one small step back to the days before the health and safety police drove a coach and horses through perfectly normal, harmless activities and created a cottage industry of officialdom to go with it.

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