CROYDON COMMENTARY: Our local council has had a racist licensing policy for the past nine years. Now it’s time to celebrate, and enjoy, black music in Croydon’s night clubs, writes Councillor CALLTON YOUNG
In 2008, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport conducted a review of a piece of Met paperwork called Police Form 696. This form was meant to aid the prevention of crime and disorder through the assessment of risk posed by music events.
Nothing wrong with that, you might say, but Form 696 quickly became associated with racial profiling. Club owners and event promoters did not have to look hard for clues. The form explicitly asked what music style will be played at proposed events, “e.g. Bashment, RnB, Garage”.
And as if this was not bad enough, it also asked, “Is there a particular ethnic group attending?”
Considered advice was at hand. The Parliamentary Committee in its findings roundly rejected any suggestion by the police of a link between music and crime and disorder; and acknowledged the form’s disproportionate impact on black music and culture. The committee’s chairman, the Conservative MP John Whittingdale, spoke of the concern that the police form was “being used to target black music events” and of the “deep resentment among certain communities”.
The committee, made up of MPs from all parties, concluded that the form exceeded the requirements of the Licensing Act and recommended that it be scrapped. That seemed clear enough.
That year, Croydon Council took the exact opposite approach.
In its 2008 Statement of Licensing Policy, Croydon Council supported use of Form 696 as a “useful and effective tool” against crime and disorder. For example, where there would be “a live performer(s) – meaning musicians, DJs, MCs or other artiste; that is promoted”. The policy also allowed for Form 696’s completion to be made a “condition” of night club licences based upon representations made by the police.
So despite concerns expressed by the industry and by a Parliamentary Select Committee about the adverse impact of Form 696, in Croydon it got the big thumbs up. Furthermore, Croydon Council, then under Conservative control, also introduced a presumption in its policy against new night clubs. As such, any clubs that closed, in some cases possibly because of the adverse impact of Form 696 on their business, could not easily be replaced by new ones.
By 2016, the black community in Croydon had rightly had enough.
A guerrilla poster campaign sprung up with a 1950s-style message of “No
Blacks Bashment, No Dogs Grime, No Irish Dubstep”. In the local paper, the police were reported to have written to a prominent Croydon club owner about playing “acceptable forms of music”. Apparently “John Paul” songs – the police are thought to have meant Sean Paul’s drum and bass – were a problem for Croydon night life.
The cat was out of the bag. Hats off to the Croydon Advertiser for breaking the story!
It is still difficult to understand how Croydon’s licensing policy itself was hidden in plain sight for so long, when the adverse implications for one section of the community were predictable and even in evidence.
It is also difficult to see how the policy was compatible with the council’s legal duty to promote race equality. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the council got away without preparing a proper Race Equality Impact Assessment.
Even a half-decent attempt at such an impact assessment would have highlighted the policy’s potential problem for black music events. But was that a concern?
I ask because as recently as the beginning of 2014, the council’s new Statement of Licensing Policy once again recommended the use of Form 696 as a useful and effective tool against crime and disorder and states, by example, any event that “predominately features DJs or MCs performing to a recorded backing track”.
Well does that squarely cover Bashment, Grime and Dubstep or not? Now let me think…
When running for election as a Labour councillor in West Thornton ward in 2016, Croydon’s ban on Bashment was the single biggest issue raised with me by black residents. The issue, rightly or wrongly, was seen as a bellwether for gentrification, which many residents in my ward had witnessed in Brixton and did not wish to experience again.
Therefore, once I was elected as a councillor, I was particularly pleased to lead a cross-party review of licensing and policing of Croydon’s night-time economy – supported by two excellent co-opted experts: retired Met Superintendent Leroy Logan MBE PhD; and Dr Joy White.
The review’s key recommendations, as prepared in April 2017, were that Form 696 should be scrapped and that Croydon’s 2014 Statement of Licensing Policy should be rewritten to remove the presumption against new night clubs and to better embrace diversity in the borough’s night-time economy.
Since then, the Mayor of London has ordered the scrapping of Form 696 and the council’s licensing policy has been rewritten. Although never formally published (except here on Inside Croydon), the review seems to have run its course.
The main things now are for licensing best practice to be promoted across the borough and for premises licences that include Form 696 as a condition to be reviewed and updated.
Of course, I was disappointed to be sacked from all council committees and posts as part of the fall-out relating to the review of Croydon’s night-time economy. However, I certainly did not vote with the Tories, as has been reported as the reason given for my sacking. Heaven forbid! After all, they are responsible for Croydon’s 2008 and 2014 Statements of Licensing Policy that were part of my concerns.
The truth is I just wanted a couple of important points placed on the record at that meeting, a distillation of what I have said above. But my sacking should not be a distraction.
The key thing is that Croydon’s night time economy will be free from Form 696 after a decade of it being at the heart of licensing and enforcement in the borough. Black people account for 20 per cent of Croydon’s population and our culture has a role to play in it as much as any other.
International music stars like Stormzy, Krept and Konan and Nadia Rose all come from Croydon.
With the demise of Form 696, the hope now is that all creative talents in the Borough will be able to, in the words of that famous John Paul [sic] song, “Breathe”.
- Read Callton Young’s report on the night time economy – still unpublished by Croydon Council nine months after it was submitted – by clicking here
- Callton Young, pictured right, is a Labour councillor for West Thornton ward, and a former senior civil servant, who serves in a leading capacity in the organisation of the annual Thornton Heath Festival
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