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Events and music industries increasingly vocal over UK’s latest COVID measures and schemes

By | Published on Tuesday 29 September 2020


Representatives of the UK events industry will today stage a protest outside Parliament in London over the UK government’s latest COVID support measures, which it’s generally agreed do little for those working in the event, live music and night-time sectors.

The protest preempts a day of activity around the world tomorrow under the #WeMakeEvents banner that seeks to put the spotlight on the terrible position the events industry now finds itself in as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There have been various protests and activities using the #WeMakeEvents hashtag since last month, though the sector continues to edge closer to collapse.

UK Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak last week announced various new schemes that will replace the programmes that previously provided financial support for those negatively impacted by the original COVID shutdown.

However, unlike those previous programmes, the new schemes are based on the assumption that people and companies are slowly getting back to normal after that original shutdown, but are not yet back to full capacity and therefore need some further government subsidy.

But ongoing and recently expanded restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus mean many in the events, live music and night-time sectors are still in full-on shutdown. And those event, live music and night-time businesses that have re-opened are generally nowhere near the level of operations where the new support schemes kick in.

Under the flagship Job Support Scheme an employee needs to be working at least 33% of their usual hours and their employer needs to cover at least 55% of their usual salary. Meanwhile, financial support for freelancers will be capped at 20% of their usual average income, again assuming a significant portion of those freelancers’ usual work has resumed.

Responding to the announcement last week, organisers of the #WeMakeEvents campaign in the UK stated: “With the increased restrictions that have been announced, it looks unlikely that we will be able to return to work in a financially viable way within the next six months”.

“This means that the majority of businesses in our sector will not be able to generate sufficient revenue to support their contribution towards employees’ salaries, nor will they be able to contract in the huge self-employed community within the industry”.

Of course, in addition to the general COVID support schemes, the UK government has allocated £1.57 billion of sector-specific funding for the creative and heritage industries, a significant portion of which will be distributed in the weeks ahead by Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund.

However, given that competition is fierce for that money, it remains to be seen how many creative businesses benefit from the Fund, and to what extent support is extended to venues, festivals and other music and night-time businesses that wouldn’t usually get Arts Council support.

And even if the music industry is pleasantly surprised by the funding decisions made by ACE, that money will benefit companies and organisations, but won’t necessarily trickle down to freelance music-makers and live music practitioners.

That’s something noted in a new open letter from the UK Council of Music Makers, which brings together artist, songwriter, producer and manager trade groups the FAC, The Ivors Academy, MMF, MPG and the MU.

“As we look to another business quarter with no live music, and nowhere in sight for it to return in full”, they write, “we urgently need support to avoid the decay of our industry, the hardship experienced by our workforce and the mass exodus of highly-skilled individuals, which will result in irreparable damage to lives, businesses and the world-class standing of the UK music industry”.

The letter goes on: “Institutions that have access to the Culture Recovery Fund largely do not have the ability to provide trickle-down opportunities to individuals that make up the workforce at this time, with current restrictions in place. We must see specific support for these individuals, now, before we experience damaging industry-wide loss”.

The CMM also notes the high number of freelancers in the music community who are yet to receive any government support at all, because they didn’t fulfil the specific criteria of the previous programme for the self-employed. With that in mind, they state: “While the CRF is current, we urge you to allocate a portion as grants to these unsupported freelancers, available as soon as possible, while a longer-term support system is considered”.

Although we await to see the actual impact of the Culture Recovery Fund, some fear that last week’s announcements from Sunak – and subsequent statements from his ministerial colleagues – represent a shift in government policy.

Which is that the government is now focusing exclusively on those businesses able to return to at least a third of normal capacity while compiling with current COVID rules, with those unable to do so – including a significant portion of the events, live music and night-time sectors – basically written off.

In a lengthy new statement, the Music Venue Trust reviews all the effort and investment in recent years – within the music community, but also within local and national government – to strengthen the country’s network of grassroots venues, which play such a key role in the development of new talent and new artist businesses.

And that includes very recent government initiatives to help provide some of those venues with short-term financial support to weather the COVID storm. To then just give up on that network of venues – alongside the wider live industry – is ludicrous, it argues.

MVT also again questions the recent 10pm curfew that has further hindered the live and night-time sectors, demanding that the government provide data to justify that particular COVID measure, which is widely seen as random and badly thought out.

Even if such data exists and that restriction is justified, MVT concludes: “The government cannot simply shrug its shoulders at 900 grassroots music venues being permanently lost, over 200,000 jobs being permanently lost, and over £5 billion in current and future economic activity that the country risks permanently losing because of the temporary decisions it is making”.

“The government has a duty to temporarily protect the venues it is temporarily restricting”, it concludes. “Music Venue Trust remains committed to working and acting together with the government to ensure that the long term viability of grassroots music venues, achieved by immense hard work in the last few years, returns after this temporary crisis”.