Friday, July 18, 2008

Buskers busted

With surprisingly short notice, London Underground have canceled their busker scheme deal with Automatic Management. Set up in the days of the Livingstone administration, this was the attempt to impose order on the chaos of tubeway buskers. It took much of the romance out of the underground - buskers were given official pitches, the scheme was sponsored by some sort of lager - but also offered a truce in the long battles between London Transport and musicians.

Now, though, the deal has gone and London Underground is taking control of the scheme, but in a way that sounds like it's a prelude to running it down:

For the foreseeable future, there will be no Busking Site Managers. In the event of any dispute over pitch bookings, instruments being played etc., LU staff will not enter into protracted discussions with buskers. If a situation cannot be easily remedied, Station Supervisors have the authority to close a busking pitch for as long as they think necessary to avoid problems. Where this is deemed necessary. Station Supervisors have been instructed to submit a formal report. Buskers should do the same to the above email address. BTP are being briefed of these changes and will provide assistance as necessary, although this is unlikely to be needed.

We can see the reasoning behind the 'if there's any dispute, shut it down' line - there's no funding for the running of these pitches and staff don't have the time or the training to oversee them. That's why, presumably, the running of the scheme was outsourced in the first place.

The Underground denies the long-term plan is to drop the scheme entirely:
We realise that the interim arangements are not ideal. However, we remain commited to operating this scheme for you and we are working hard to introduce more robust arrangements as quickly as we can. The decision to bring the scheme ‘in-house’ was taken with very little notice (for a number of reasons) and we must all do all we can over the coming weeks to keep the scheme viable.

... but that pay off about "keeping the scheme viable" suggests a door being opened to an announcement that, hey, we tried to do all we can, but...

Some suspicion has aired that Boris will have something to do with this - like he's actually making decisions - but there's nothing to confirm one way or the other.