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Concerns expressed that government’s cultural COVID funding won’t reach music-makers

By | Published on Thursday 30 July 2020


The music industry has cautiously welcomed guidance published yesterday regarding the distribution of government funds to COVID-hit cultural businesses. However, concerns have been expressed that monies won’t filter down to individual music-makers, and that challenges will remain and increase for the many freelancers that work in the music community.

Arts Council England yesterday provided more information about its Culture Recovery Fund, which will distribute up to £500 million of the £1.57 billion in funding being provided by the UK government to help cultural and heritage businesses that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that a particularly wide definition of ‘cultural organisation’ is being employed by the fund, meaning that support should be available to many music businesses that wouldn’t traditionally get grants from the Arts Council. Music venues and festivals are specifically listed as being eligible.

However, the fund is skewed towards companies rather than individual artists, songwriters and producers, with some reckoning that infrastructure – ie venues and large events – could get the lion’s share of the money. In theory, some of that funding could then be used to employ music-makers, so that the money trickles down, but there are concerns that this won’t really happen.

Many music-makers are self-employed and have so far relied on the government’s specific funding scheme for freelancers, assuming they met the eligibility criteria. But that scheme is due to end in August. Both the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society Of Musicians have repeatedly called for said scheme – ie the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme or SEISS – to be extended for those working in those cultural industries that are still basically in shutdown.

ISM CEO Deborah Annetts said yesterday: “Further detail on the grant application process is welcome, as with many cultural organisations on the verge of collapse or having already closed, we urgently need to get the funding from the government to those in our sector that need it most. Yet there is still no plan for long-term financial support for freelancers, who make up the majority of the music sector workforce”.

“With the number of live performances likely to remain extremely low for the rest of the year, freelancers will be without sufficient work opportunities while also being deprived of government support”, she went on. “Even this new guidance indicates that some venues may not re-open until March 2021, six months after SEISS ends. This must be tackled head-on, by extending SEISS until at least the end of the year. Otherwise, we risk an exodus of talent and serious damage to the health of the music sector”.

The MU echoed that message, while also stating that the government’s furlough funding scheme – which supports those in formal employment – should also be extended for cultural businesses that are not able to reopen in the months ahead, and which are possibly not eligible or simply unsuccessful in applying for money from the Culture Recovery Fund.

The union’s Deputy General Secretary, Naomi Pohl, said: “Naturally, we are very concerned about the exclusion of individuals and how the funding will filter down to members. We hope the funding will not only sustain the infrastructure of the industry but protect jobs and support freelancers. We will continue to lobby for sector-specific extension of the furlough scheme and the SEISS so that our members are supported while the live music business, in particular, remains largely dormant”.

Pohl also again noted that many freelancers in the music community have so far been unable to access any funding at all because of the way they have structured their individual businesses. “We also continue to ask for the gaps to be filled in or alternative funds to be made available for the 38% of our members who do not qualify for either scheme”, she said.