Friday 27 April 2012

Brent Fightback campaigns for free distribution of literature

Brent Fightback will be meeting on Monday April 30th 7.30pm at the Trades Hall, 375 Willesden High Road, NW1O 2JR (nearest tube Dollis Hill)  Among the items for discussion is the Council's scheme to license the distribution of free literature in designated areas of the borough.

Fightback write:
Attached is the report that last Monday's Brent Council Executive rubber stamped. It would require anyone distributing free literature - leaflets or newspapers - to apply for a licence (costing £175 and £75 to renew) 14 days in advance and then pay £65 per distributor per day or either £100 or £110 according to which paragraph you read if leaflets are given out before 8.00 am or after 6.00 pm. Distributors would have to wear an ID badge obtained from the Council and a hi-viz jacket provided by the 'promoter'. There are exemptions for the distribution of printed matter:
(a) by or on behalf of a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1993, where the printed matter relates to or is intended for the benefit of the charity
(b) where the distribution is for political purposes or for the purposes of religion or belief

Two Fightback supporters spoke at the executive but the points we raised and the questions we asked were ignored and brushed aside. Councillors insisted that the regulations were purely and simply designed to cut down on litter, but we believe that they could have dangerous implications for free speech and civil rights and that they are far from clear and transparent. This article from the Guardian spells out some of the adverse effects regulations like this have had when imposed by other councils:

See overview of the issue in the Guardian HERE
This pamphlet from the Manifesto Club spells them out in even more detail HERE

We are asking the Council to spell out clearly whom the regulations are intended to target - are they just aimed at commercial firms employing people to give out large numbers of leaflets or free newspapers? If so, that should be made clear in the regulations, if not there will be really harmful effects for small businesses, arts organisations, community groups, jazz and comedy clubs and others who only want to distribute small numbers of leaflets and who could not possibly afford the massive fees proposed in these regulations.

What is included in 'political purposes'? This is the term used in the enabling legislation, but it is extremely ambiguous. It probably includes anti-war, anti-cuts and anti-fascist campaigning and certainly includes leaflets given out by political parties, but would it include leaflets supporting the Palestinian cause, campaigns against library closures, privatisation or climate change, for fairtrade, Friends of the Earth, support for striking workers?

The exemptions spelled out in the regulations as passed on Monday would not apply to community groups organising say, coffee mornings, to parent teacher associations advertising school concerts, to someone drawing attention to a plant sale at the farmers' market, to a newly opened restaurant or hairdresser letting people know that they are there, to a window cleaner setting up in business, pop-up shops the organisers of art exhibitions, supplementary schools, comedy clubs, music gigs ....... None of these could afford the licence fees, so they would either be unable to advertise their events or be forced to defy the regulations and risk prosecution. 
It would also be very unfair on the Council officers or police who will be expected to enforce confusing regulations.

There are also inconsistencies and  mistakes in the drafting of these regulations, and an assertion that there are no diversity or equality implications, which is questionable - some minority groups will be prevented from advertising their activities and their free newspapers will be banned.
We believe that unless they are drastically revised and clarified, these regulations should be opposed. We think ALL voluntary small scale literature distribution even if it is not for charities, religious or political purposes, should be exempted from the regulations or they should be dropped altogether. 
If you are among the groups that could be affected by the regulations as they stand PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL COUNCILLORS OR ALL THE COUNCILLORS (their email addresses are on the Council website .
The Kilburn and Brent Times alerted us to the dangers posed by these regulations and will continue to carry the story. We are grateful to them, but please spread the word to anyone you know who is involved in groups or activities that could be affected. If they persist in bringing these regulations in unchanged, we need to launch objections but also to take united action to challenge them.
Come to the Fightback meeting to discuss how to continue the fight against these proposals.

1 comment:

The Local Don. said...

"Councillors insisted that the regulations were purely and simply designed to cut down on litter"

Local councillors standing up for Brent Council, their employer and paymaster, again.

The Local Don.