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Hebden Bridge Picture House: new booking policy

From Anthony Rae

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

I didn't get involved in this debate last time; just watched in astonishment from the sidelines as politicians succeeded in dragging the town's reputation for creative freedom into disrepute whilst re-inventing the Watch Committees of the 1950s for the modern age. A huge local furore, a spirited public meeting (I'm told), so the Town Council goes away to revise the 'booking policy' . . . and now recreates exactly the same problems and procedures but in a new guise:

- So a 'taste and decency' clause is still included (5.1.c), with once again the 'values' of our Town Council being identified as the touchstone (5.1.a). Apparently these should not be offended.

- And politicians are still to be involved in making cultural and artistic decisions (para. 4.5, sections 5 and 6). In the first instance our Town Clerk is to be the arbiter of public taste on events claimed to be controversial (para.5.4)

A basic question please for the year 2013: why are politicians seeking to intervene in decisions which are not theirs to make? Surely our Town Council and its members should have nothing to do with the acceptability of bookings or events at the Picture House, but leave it to an independent and arms-length mechanism within that organisation.

Good grief!

From Jonathan Timbers

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Anthony Rae misrepresents the booking policy with a mixture of fantasy and pedantry.

He puts 'taste and decency' as if it is wording that appears in the policy. It does not. The clause he refers to says:

there are reasonable grounds for believing that the proposed event or any of its content may give rise to an environment in which people will experience or could reasonably fear harassment, intimidation, victimisation, verbal abuse or violence, particularly because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation, and or is likely to give rise to other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010;

The likelihood that an act will fall foul of these reasonable statutory grounds is small. Even if it does, the policy allows for an escalation of the issue up to full council, where there will be a public debate, with representations welcome from all sides.

The policy also refers to human rights. In the context of the booking policy, this can be interpreted as restricting the council so it can only refuse a booking when it thinks to do so will be 'legitimate, proportionate and necessary'.

One would expect this level of misunderstanding from the Daily Mail, but not from someone who campaigns about climate change. He will be familiar, I think, with similar Daily Mail-like misrepresentations of his views. It is a shame that he should seek to perpetuate a similar approach to equality, which is one of the underlying principles of a liberal society.

I should also add that the policy also promotes use of the Picture House by under-represented parts of the community, so it is primarily about widening the pool of talent we draw on.

From Graham Barker

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

I'm with Anthony on this one. The policy document is the most ludicrously pompous piece of nonsense I've read in a long time. For example, what should a potential event organiser make of this:

5. Where a hire request has not been declined for any of the factors at a. to d. (inclusive) above but the Manager or the Programming and Marketing Officer have reasonable grounds to believe that were the Town Clerk or the Picture House committee to consider the decision to accept the booking under section 5 (below) that they would refuse the booking under one or more of the grounds specified in paragraph 1 of section 5, the hire request shall be passed to the Town Clerk for determination by him / her under the provisions of section 5.

On the news release Jonathan states that 'Equality and human rights are central to the (booking) policy.' That's the big mistake. They shouldn't be. They should be a factor to hold in reserve for the very rare situations where a proposed event can't be judged by commercial or operational criteria alone.

If Hebden Bridge wants to become a laughing stock in the arts and culture world, this booking policy - or rather anti-booking policy - is the way to do it.

From Jonathan Timbers

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

In a sense, Graham Barker is right. The provisions which allow for refusal of booking are 'in reserve for the very rare situations where a proposed event can't be judged by commercial or operational criteria alone'.

That, I am afraid, accounts for the cumbersome drafting, as the manager will judge bookings simply on their commercial merits but escalate any issues.

However, even though we do not envisage refusing acts often, if at all, 'Equality and human rights' are still central to the policy in three ways:

1) The council will have due regard to equality in the way it exercises its booking function, as required by law. The first step is for the PH manager to decide if there is an issue which needs escalating or whether she can accept the booking on purely commercial grounds

2) If an issue is escalated the council will consider the booking in the light of the provisions set out in part 5, within the restraints placed on it by the Human Rights Act

3) ...and this is crucial, the PH will become a place where difficult and challenging work from all parts of the community, particularly those whose voices are ignored or not heard, can be presented

From Anthony Rae

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

I simply note that Jonathan's response does not address the questions of principle I raised.

From Jonathan Timbers

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

I note that Anthony Rae fails in his second post to offer a defence of his inaccurate comments about the booking policy. If he can't defend them, he should withdraw them.

In response to his 'question of principle',which appears in the final paragraph of his first posting, it is in effect a question both of law and democracy. Under the Equality Act 2010, the town council must have due regard to equality in the exercise of its functions, including the management and running of the Picture House. Initially, officers will make decisions, but if they think those decisions may be controversial, they submit the issue to the town council for public debate. The policy simply transposes the statutory language into the policy so it is transparent.

The other principles are accountability and community involvement, which the policy encourages to the utmost degree.

If we were a private or voluntary organisation (like a Church), we could make any decision we wanted, more or less, on whatever basis we wanted (subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and licensing law), with no public discussion, on bookings. Our booking policy seeks to involve all interested parties in the decision making process, subject to the relevant statutory provisions.

Graham raises a concern about the possibility of confusing people seeking to book the Picture House for live events. In response to that understandable concern, it helps if you see the policy as for the town council and the terms and conditions of hire for those booking the Picture House. Amongst other things, the policy sets out the grounds upon which the town council, as owner and operator of the Picture House, can refuse bookings. It establishes a process and sets limits in the way it exercises its lawful discretion. More importantly, it sets out a vision for what the Picture House would like to achieve through bookings.

From Graham Barker

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Jonathan - I didn't 'raise a concern about the possibility of confusing people seeking to book the Picture House'. My point was not about confusion. It was about a booking policy from hell that serves only to demonstrate Hebden Royd Town Council's continuing delusion of moral grandeur. Nothing at all seems to have been learned from the burlesque fiasco. But as I'm unlikely ever to want to book the Picture House for anything, I'm happy to leave it at that.

From Jason Elliott

Thursday, 10 October 2013

I was interested to read Cllr Timbers assertion "and this is crucial, the PH will become a place where difficult and challenging work from all parts of the community, particularly those whose voices are ignored or not heard, can be presented".

This statement, however noble, is somewhat hollow in the context of the booking fees charged. It's a bit like "75% discount on helicopter hire for all single parents in receipt of JSA."

Speaking from personal experience of having hired the PH several times, the only organisations that are likely to be able to afford this are those that can be confident of getting a few hundred bodies through the door. This may very well be the case with events put on by the Trades Club or the Blues Festival (certainly in the case of the Burlesques Festival, thanks to the mega-publicity-bonanza handed to them by the PH Committee earlier in the year,) but I suspect that the marginalised organisations alluded to will have difficulty raising the necessary funds unless supported by very heavy discounting.

Can Cllr Timbers assure the readers of this forum that such a policy exists to support these groups, and that these are not just hollow words for the sake of political posturing?

Can he also clarify whether the pricing structure remains based on charging the equivalent of a full house for three films on a Saturday and two on a Sunday, as was the case, as this is the basis upon which I suggest that it would be unaffordable for organisations without mass-appeal?

From Anthony Rae

Friday, 11 October 2013

Jonathan's argument, which he is seeking to promote, is that the Equality Act 2010 applies in some way to performances that might be made at the Picture House; that is, to generalise the proposition, that the Act applies to the content of cultural, artistic and entertainment events and activities booked in all such venues. Of course there isn't actually a need for the Picture House bookings policy to single out the Equality Act as requiring to be adhered to, because the venue has to comply with any number of provisions of English law. So why has the Act been introduced into it, and has it been introduced legitimately?

Because if you look at the Act (here) it isn't immediately obvious why this has occurred – so there are no clauses specifically relating to the content of cultural and entertainment performances - and with good reason because that would have been to excessively enlarge its intended purpose. It appears something of a sleight of hand to say that 'under the Equality Act 2010, the Town Council must have due regard to equality in the exercise of its functions, including the management and running of the Picture House' - which it does, if we are talking about a duty not to discriminate in relation for example to employment or the conduct of its staff – to then imply that this also encompasses judgments having to be made about the lawfulness under the Act of the content of performances taking place in the venue. Perhaps Jonathan could furnish us with a specific citation from a section of the Act, and then the case law and precedents, and finally to the legislators' intentions, to justify this interpretation?

Clause 5.1.c of the policy appears to be claiming for the Town Council a right to prohibit cultural/artistic performances at the Picture House where 'there are reasonable grounds for believing that the proposed event or any of its content may give rise to an environment in which people will experience or could reasonably fear harassment, intimidation, victimisation, verbal abuse or violence, particularly because of their …(list of characteristics)' or where the performance 'is likely to give rise to other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010' (my emphasis). Now, what do these words mean in relation to the content of an artistic /cultural performance, and even where do they come from? Accompanying this with a reference to the Human Rights Act 1998 and convention rights is something of a fig leaf, and creates the potential for a conflict to be set up between the two acts in an over-legalistic tangle.

The new bookings policy seems to be an act of legal activism undertaken not by a judge, lawyer or litigant but by Hebden Royd Town Council; an attempt to apply the 251 pages, 218 clauses and 28 schedules of the 2010 Equality Act to the content of performances at the Picture House, Hebden Bridge. This is made clear in Jonathan's accompanying statement about the new policy and his ambitions for it: it "puts us in the forefront of local authorities and public authorities in respect of our bookings policy. It's a standard to which others can aspire."

What Jonathan appears to have done is to have made good the stated intention of his Hebweb posting of 2nd July (in relation to the Burlesque festival), wherein he indicated some clear positions: the necessary right of the Town Council to "turn down" potential acts at the Picture House on certain grounds; his personal attitude towards 'burlesque' which he declared "poses a particular problem" (followed by six paragraphs of his views thereon); and ending in what I think amounts to a personal wish not to permit burlesque to take place at the Picture House. That thread also included a reference to a statement that I presume Jonathan made at the public meeting: 'Cllr Timbers said we needed a policy in order that we could ban people like Frankie Boyle from performing at the Picture House too.'

Jonathan wrote then: "There is clearly a need for the town council to develop a booking policy which takes account (as the town council is required to do by law) of equality issues, and more importantly allows it to decline bookings on equality grounds", and now he appears to have done just that even though his position was challenged at the time, with its implications pointed out by other contributors.

Well, those were Jonathan's personal views. But why has the Town Council done this? Maybe other councillors can explain? Have they a legal opinion that advises them that the Act requires them or indeed allows them to do this? And it's odd that, in view of the unprecedented debate in the summer, that this policy wasn't put out for consultation before it was approved and announced.

Finally two specific questions to Jonathan or any other town councillor about the new bookings policy in practice: If the Burlesque Festival were to apply now to use the Picture House, would it be accepted or not? And Frankie Boyle?

It seems to be an unforeseen consequence of the asset transfer that the Town Council has decided to manage not just the building but ultimately its artistic content as well. As I said: a Watch Committee for the modern age (the Picture House Committee of the Town Council).

There were no inaccuracies in my original posting, so nothing to be withdrawn. But it's unfortunate that references to misrepresentations as practiced by the Daily Mail, 'pedantry' and so forth have been introduced into a discussion about the principle of the right or not of politicians to censor artistic/cultural performances, and what happens when they attempt this.

From Andrew Kay

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Reading all this it is clear the Hebden Bridge cinema is being managed by people with very little business, marketing or management acumen and who revel in creating difficulty. Sort yourselves out - it's not that difficult running a small arts venue! It should only be a source of joy, not consternation - that's what cinema and music are all about. Get a professional arts manager in who has overall directorial control and who can build it as a successful business for the community. Don't involve town or country councillors, politicians or pedestrian civil servants. Bring in real expertise and it will in time pay for itself.

It seems even the projection process is poorly managed. Last week I went to see La Grande Belleza - a stunning film. However, just before it started the screen showed muted bits of Sky news - clearly from someone's laptop - which felt unprofessional and confusing for the audience.

Sort yourselves out!! Hebden Bridge is fast becoming a little like the town in Rowling's 'A Casual Vacancy'!

From Nick Bowles

Monday, 21 October 2013

I am not going to enter the debate about the booking policy other than to say some of the programming has been brilliant recently.

But what I do want to say is that we are lucky to have our own cinema at all. The picture and sound quality is excellent, the staff are friendly, the audience is decent too so you don't get chair kicking or yobbish behaviour. The Picture House is a great local business and we should support it.

From Jason Elliott

Monday, 28 October 2013

As Councillor Timbers won't respond to my question about fees for groups with non-mass-appeal, perhaps he could let us know whether showing "Diana" or "The Iron Lady" would be approved, now there is a booking policy...

I only ask as his colleague "decided on balance that offending a significant portion of Hebden Royd was not acceptable" when banning the Burlesque Festival.

I would venture to suggest that a significant portion of Hebden Royd would be offended if they were made to sit through either of those films. But then again, perhaps they could just not buy a ticket and go about their normal business, having exercised their freedom of choice.

See also

HebWeb News: Following the Burlesque debate, Hebden Bridge Picture House now has a Bookings Policy Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Hebden Bridge Picture House booking policy