As a marathon runner, my regularly-recurring nightmare is that I get so slow I actually start moving backwards. I had precisely that feeling when I tried to wade through the tiers of local government while trying to organise the launch of our fabulous new Festival of Chichester.
We had a jazz band for the launch. So we needed a busking licence. I asked Chichester District Council who referred me to West Sussex County Council who referred me to Chichester City Council who, quite correctly, referred me back to the County Council who eventually confessed that yes, it was them, after all.
But then it transpired that a busking licence had already been issued to another organisation outside the county to perform by the Cross on the day in question. For a while, it seemed we could launch the festival in North Street instead, but then this clashed with something else, so we had to shift to East Street.
Then it turned out that the group who had the busking licence for the Cross wasn’t going to turn up anyway. Aha! The Cross was ours. Except it wasn’t. Somewhere along the line the district council had issued a street collecting licence for a local charity to stand at the Cross. Close by, one of the city’s educational establishments had set up chairs and a table in East Street – something we were told we couldn’t do. Did they have a licence? “No, we’re not going to bother with that!” was their reply. Maybe they had the right idea.
In the event, we had a superb launch, and I think we were legal. But surely the time has come to end this Kafka-esque confusion. Licensing of all kinds – for busking, for street collections, for whatever activity– must be handed over to Chichester City Council, the authority best positioned to take a proper overview of what is right, what is proper and what actually matters.
The current situation is impenetrable and absurd. The City Council must become the sole licensing authority – for the sake of all our sanities.
Dr P G Hewitt
Festival of Chichester