Newham Council - a rant

Discussion in 'music, bands, clubs & festies' started by LeytonCatLady, Apr 4, 2018.

  1. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    I have now been busking for six months and am really enjoying being my own boss and entertaining London's public. As readers will know, it's not been without its issues - like certain people having a go - but that's survivable. I have about 15 different areas of the city I go to every day, in order to vary my audience. I play punk covers on an acoustic, both old and new, which seems to get attention due to its unusualness from a busker! It brings me enough money to live on, which is fantastic.

    Before I began doing this full time, I did my research to find out where you can and can't busk. buskinlondon.com is the official source of info for London street performers, including a Buskers' Code which was drawn up by the Mayor of London himself in 2015. It also says busking is legal on public land, and tells you the exceptions here: Buskers' Code | Busk in London According to london.gov.uk, the Mayor and his staff contacted all the borough councils before drawing this up, and got this information directly. You can read more on this here: Mayor unveils plan to boost busking across London and beyond

    Now on Tuesday 13th March while busking in Stratford opposite the Westfield steps, a Newham Council enforcement officer approached me and told me busking wasn't allowed anywhere in the borough. This surprised me, as Newham is not mentioned anywhere in the Buskers' Code as a no-go area. Neither could I find anything on newham.gov, either through Google or using the council website's search engine. However, she was pleasant enough, and just doing her job, so I did move on when asked. I contacted Busk in London, who weren't aware of any busking ban in Newham, and said they would investigate. I also contacted Newham Council, who have still not got back to me. I also printed off the list of rules from Busk In London so I could carry this info on me and show it to anyone else who challenged me.

    On Friday 30th March (Good Friday), I hadn't been planning to busk in Stratford, but it was raining and I needed some money for the Easter weekend, so I thought I'd go there as I could take shelter outside Wilko under their canopy (for those who aren't familiar, this is a public pavement and buskers often perform there). I had been playing for about an hour and made £20 when another council officer came over with his walkie-talkie playing the hard guy. He told me "You can't stand there and sing, so leave or I'll report you!" I didn't appreciate his attitude but politely explained that busking is legal on public land, and showed him the info I had printed off which backs this up. He then changed his story to say I could carry on performing, but that it was illegal for me to accept money, which is bullshit. I never ask anyone for payment, either verbally or using signage - I just stand there singing and playing, and accept the tips as and when they come (as per the rule "Performers can accept donations but the public must never feel obliged to pay."). The City of London council does have this rule but it's easily findable on their website, as it should be.

    Anyway, I told him I had never seen this rule on either the Newham council website or Buskinlondon.com and that I couldn't be expected to adhere to a "law" that's not written anywhere. He told me it didn't matter and that I was breaking the law, although he struggled to explain which laws I was actually breaking! I asked him how buskers are meant to know that officers are not just stopping their performance because they don't personally like or approve of buskers, and also if it's illegal, how come I get coppers walking past me all the time and they never say a word. Surprise surprise, he couldn't answer that either; just told me again he was going to report me, with the old chestnut "I'm just doing my job!" I wasn't going to be intimidated and told him he was welcome to report me to anyone he chose, because I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was prepared to carry on playing; however at that point another busker arrived, wanting to use the spot. I told him that was fine but warned him to look out for the busybody. He seemed to appreciate the information, and I then headed for the pub.

    I have been in touch with Busk in London again about this, but haven't received a reply yet. I have also contacted Newham Council and put in a complaint against this officer due to his bullying manner. When approaching me, he threatened to report me straight away, without giving me a chance to either leave or not. Ironically, if he had been nice, like his colleague, I probably would have just agreed to leave and then challenged it through the proper channels. But when someone's being a prick like that, I find that hard to ignore and don't like to let them get away with nastiness.

    Also, I have been told different things by two separate employees of Newham Council now. The first that busking isn't allowed, the second that you can perform but not accept money (and he changed his story). I'm still in the dark as to what's going on - either busking has recently been banned in the borough, or they've been told to "discourage" buskers and are moving us on by telling us we're committing a crime when we're not.

    I don't want to lose Stratford as a busking area if I can help it, as I make some of my best tips when I'm there. And that's the other thing - people round there clearly like buskers, so the council's actions can hardly be described as in the public interest! They clearly want to turn the streets of East London into a soulless, cultureless Daily Mail reader's wet dream. Why can't these jobsworths just leave the fuck alone?

    Thanks for listening, urbs.
     
  2. stethoscope

    stethoscope Well-Known Member

    Can't advise I'm afraid, but yes, Newham Council are a bunch of cunts!
     
    pinkmonkey, tim and Thimble Queen like this.
  3. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    No problem Stethoscope, your concise reply made me laugh! Time will tell. I rota it, so I'm not due in Stratford again for at least another week. Hopefully I'll have some answers from the council and/or Busk In London by then.
     
  4. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    UPDATE: Busk in London have now replied to me with the following:


    Hi Leyton Cat Lady,

    I have passed this second email to my colleague who is continuing to investigate this with the borough.

    From what you say below, it sounds as though the council either do not know the rules and are not used to dealing with buskers who do know their rights on public land. The fact that this person changed their story when you challenged him demonstrates this.

    We spent a considerable amount of time consulting with all councils prior to putting any info on our website. As I said, we are not aware that anything has changed in Newham and will be very interested to hear if this is not the case. As you say, their own website does not mention a ban on busking or collecting tips so they need to be very clear one way or another.

    While we continue to look into this, please keep doing what you are doing as there is no mention anywhere that you should not and you know your rights on public land!

    Many thanks
     
  5. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    Another update! Think I've found out what's going on.

    I busked in Stratford again yesterday and had another council officer come up to me to say busking wasn't allowed in Newham. He was quite friendly actually, and seemed surprised when I showed him the copy of the Busk In London code which I now carry on me at all times, which doesn't mention Newham. I also pointed out that none of Newham's PSPOs or bylaws say anything about busking (I've read them all online), and that people can't be expected to adhere to a bylaw that isn't written anywhere. He admitted that it's his manager (Head of Enforcements) who doesn't want buskers in the borough. He let me complete my set though, and I appreciated that.

    I know councils can pass bylaws restricting whatever activities they choose, but Newham have obviously not done this with busking, or it would be somewhere in the public domain; which it isn't. It sounds like it's not the council's official policy, but this senior manager's personal preferences; and that's not right. Enforcing means upholding existing laws, not making laws up to use against people he personally doesn't like. I have previously emailed this manager directly asking for clarification after another busker I know got moved on (I also CC'd Busk In London so he could reply to them and they could update their info if needed), but never got an answer. I wonder if anyone has any advice on who else's attention I can bring this to, as it sounds like he's abusing his authority? Thanks in advance.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2018
  6. Pickman's model

    Pickman's model One star in sight

    Write to a Stratford councillor or the newham chief executive

    Or both
     
  7. maomao

    maomao 四月她爹

    Come to Romford and busk. The main shopping street is very lively and we could do with a bit more variety.
     
  8. FridgeMagnet

    FridgeMagnet Administrator

    Yeah, LeytonCatLady it seems like a reasonable move to write to the council and say “please clarify whether busking is banned and if so what the relevant bylaw is, otherwise please tell your officials not to harass buskers”.

    Not that they will do anything without pressure of course so you might want to look at involving any journos or musicians you know, and certainly keeping the buskinlondon site updated.

    As for dealing with them on the street, I’m not a busker but it sounds like the sort of random baseless harassment photographers sometimes get, and you seem to be dealing with it very well. Knowing your rights, not letting them intimidate you and insisting on going about your lawful business or they can call the police if they like are all good.
     
    Pickman's model likes this.
  9. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    Thanks guys, will do. I'll let you know the outcome!
     
    pesh and Pickman's model like this.
  10. Pickman's model

    Pickman's model One star in sight

    Please do - and good luck! :)
     
    LeytonCatLady likes this.
  11. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    Well, this saga has kind of ended. For me, anyway.

    I wrote to Newham's CEO but heard nothing back. However, I just found out today that HMV's Westfield branch has closed down, and that's the only reason I busk in Stratford! I don't think I'll be getting as much of a target audience there now. :(

    Still, I'm glad I did escalate further up the chain as in the intervening period, neither me or other buskers in Stratford had any bother from anybody. Maybe the Enforcement guys have been spoken to...or maybe that was a little pig flying past my window. ;)
     
  12. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    And now...Haringey Council have joined in the rot!

    I was in Crouch End this afternoon when a plainclothes enforcement officer from Haringey showed me his ID and told me I couldn't busk there because there were no licensed pitches in the borough. I pointed out that busking is an unregulated activity under the 2003 Licensing Act, and that the Haringey council website clearly states a licence is not needed. He changed his story (of course!) to say I was causing an obstruction of the highway. Blatantly untrue, as you could have got a piano past where I was playing, but he was determined to clutch at straws. He told me he was going to report me and walked off. I knocked off about 20 minutes later and went on a break, then did another set in a different spot and didn't see him again for the rest of the day. I have written the following email to the Haringey Council head of enforcements:


    Dear [name],

    I was busking in Crouch End this afternoon outside Tesco Express on the Broadway when I was approached by one of your plainclothes enforcement officers. He told me I had to stop because Haringey does not have licensed pitches. However, according to this link https://www.haringey.gov.uk/sites/haringeygovuk/files/regulated_entertainment.pdf a licence is not needed to busk in Haringey. Also busking is an unlicensed activity under the 2003 Licensing Act.

    Your colleague also said I was "obstructing the highway", which I dispute for the following reasons: 1) It was more than possible to push a piano past. 2) I was standing under a canopy, where people don't tend to walk unless going into the shop, and I was nowhere near the doorway - in other words, even if I hadn't been standing there, no one would have been walking that close to the shop window anyway! 3) I use a canvas guitar case, which can be folded up and was taking up no more space than the nearby newspaper stand. I appreciate he was doing his job as directed by his management, but I believe he has been given the wrong information, which I will explain below.

    According to Busk In London, an organisation founded by Boris Johnson in 2015 and still supported by Sadiq Khan, busking is legal on public land apart from the City of London (who have published this information quite clearly on their own site). In the boroughs of Camden and Hillingdon, a licence is required, and I have written confirmation from Busk In London that they consulted all the councils before publishing this information on their website. With this in mind, can you advise why Haringey Council did not mention any busking restrictions at this time when they had the opportunity to do so?

    Nothing on your website suggests busking is prohibited in your borough. As above, busking is a perfectly legal activity by default, and if a local authority wishes to change this, they have to pass a bylaw against it, for example a PSPO. According to the information here, Local government legislation: byelaws the first step towards this would be a consultation sent out to residents and businesses of the borough, which would be public record. Again, there is nothing of this nature in the public domain.

    If anything has changed in Haringey since 2015, please advise which bylaws prohibit busking, and when exactly this was passed. I would also appreciate a link to this information. If this is not the case, please see the link to the official London Buskers' Code which includes restrictions by borough and share with your officers to prevent further confusion. Buskers' Code | Busk in London

    I have copied Busk In London into this email so you can reply to them also and allow them to update their info and make buskers aware, if this is necessary.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing some feedback from you.

    Kind Regards
     
  13. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    Wow, I've actually had a reply from a senior officer at Haringey! That's a better start. Here's his reply. The bolded has cheered me up.


    Dear Leyton Cat Lady,

    Thank you for your email.

    We received a complaint yesterday in relation to your activities in Crouch End. An officer attended and engaged with you, and you were requested to move for obstructing the highway.

    The officer has been advised in relation to the licensing matter raised.

    I thank you for your email


    and this is what I sent him back:


    Hello

    Thank you for your quick reply, and for advising your officers regarding the licensing matter, I appreciate this.

    However at that time, your officer did not mention a complaint about my activities. I always introduce myself to shop owners etc when busking, and let them know they can approach me if there is an issue. As for obstruction of the highway, I disagree with this based on the reasons I outlined above, as people were still able to walk past in the same way that they would have done if I hadn't been there. I should also point out the "obstruction" issue did not come up until I showed him my printed off copy of the Buskers' Code backing up my right to play on public land, and he just happened to spot the phrase "obstruction of the highway" in a different clause! As I said, he was pleasant enough, but his story did change a couple of times when I tried to clarify things.

    If you did receive a complaint about me yesterday, I believe it was malicious rather than genuine. Is it possible to advise complainers to speak to the busker first? Had I been approached by the complainer, I would have happily apologised for bothering them and found another location. I appreciate some members of the public don't like buskers being around, but some do spot buskers and assume the worst, whether it's affecting them or not. I busk in Crouch End every two weeks, and this is the first time I have had an issue. I also only play an acoustic guitar, with no microphone or amplification, which people often comment favourably on, so I know for a fact I'm not too loud (as per the Buskers' Code, the rule of thumb is that you should be just slightly louder than the street background noise, and the traffic was drowning me out fairly frequently).

    People are entitled to their opinions about buskers, but please encourage the people of Haringey not to tar us all with the same brush.

    Kind Regards
     
    crossthebreeze, A380 and maomao like this.
  14. A380

    A380 How do I change this 'custom title' thing then?

    As you say, it seems a bit off to tell you in writing there was a complaint when the person who spoke to you didn’t tell you that and offer the chance for you to mitigate any particular behaviour.

    Also when people say they are going to ‘report’ you ask what they mean? ‘Reporting for process’ is a formal action like being charged. It means they are asking a court to summons you. Because of it it is quite heavily legislated arround, not least a requirement to issue the verbal caution if they want to use anything you might say about it. I’d bet a medium sized amount of money that90% of council street wardens would lack the training to report someone and then write up a court file without fucking it up.

    Also, as you say, you actually need an offence or bylaw to be taken to court for ( ok you can technically be reported for common law offences, but given the ones that are left are things like murder it’s a tad unlikely).

    They may mean they will give you a ticket, but again there has to be an actual offence or bylaw written down.

    The days of ‘Section One of the my council boss doesn’t like your tunes act’ are long gone...

    Keep doing what you’re doing!
     
    LeytonCatLady likes this.
  15. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    So many people just assume there has to be some kind of licence for busking, and even though you'd expect a council officer to know if you do need one or not, it's possible that particular point hasn't been covered in their training. I used to work in local government myself years ago (more a call centre job) and I can't tell you the amount of times a situation comes up that you haven't been prepared for, and your manager will look at you incredulously and ask "But you should know that!" Er no, I'm not a mind reader...That's why I have an incredible amount of patience with council staff in this situation.

    Another busker friend of mine has challenged Newham on their so-called "busking ban" by asking them what bylaw prohibits it, and they told him the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 prevents it. Obviously this is not legally valid as 1) busking is not a crime, 2) if that was the case, busking wouldn't be allowed anywhere, and 3) even Home Office guidance states that anti-social behaviour laws should not be used to quash busking. Newham know full well they have no bylaws to prevent anybody busking in their borough, and they're quoting irrelevant laws hoping to intimidate. That's why the officer in Stratford last time backed off, because he knew I was right.

    The thing on Wednesday in Crouch End was just one long bluff. That guy started off being nice and "I-don't-agree-with-this-myself" but his tone and demeanour became colder and harder when I didn't accept what he told me. He started off saying there were no licensed pitches, then when I challenged this, came out with his line about obstructing the highway (and he didn't even think of that until he saw it mentioned in a separate paragraph of my Busk In London literature). He was clearly making it up as he went along. There's no shame in not knowing everything - we all have to learn - but you can tell a lot about a person by how they receive new information. Contrast the Newham bloke who was open to what I said, and said he'd ask his boss more questions about it, even though I didn't hear back. The Haringey bloke only cared about being right, and insisted on clutching at straws "You're obstructing the highway" and told his boss that too. I'll have to be wary of that if he's willing to lie...

    Anyway, cheers for the encouragement. If I get more jobsworth stories, I'll post them here to spread awareness.
     
  16. mrs quoad

    mrs quoad Well-Known Member

    FoI it and they’re obliged to respond :thumbs:
     
    NoXion likes this.
  17. LeytonCatLady

    LeytonCatLady Well-Known Member

    I did, they said my question was too specific and redirected me to Enforcements, whose head has his own agenda. :rolleyes:
     

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