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Music industry calls for more clarity and financial support as new COVID lockdown is announced for England

By | Published on Monday 2 November 2020


The boss of the Night Time Industries Association has said that the new England-wide COVID lockdown announced by the UK government this weekend could be the “final nail in the coffin” for many night-time businesses. Meanwhile, the Incorporated Society Of Musicians has sought confirmation from ministers as to what the latest round of COVID restrictions means for the financial support available to freelancers.

The UK government confirmed on Saturday that a nationwide lockdown will be instigated across England from Thursday in a bid to tackle the current second spike in COVID-19 cases. The new lockdown won’t be as severe as the one earlier in the year – with schools, colleges and more workplaces staying open – however non-essential shops and hospitality, entertainment and other night-time businesses will close.

Quite what impact the new national lockdown will have varies around the country, depending on what localised COVID restrictions were already in place. Although the newly announced measures seem to go beyond even the restrictions that were in force in so called tier three areas.

As for what it means in practical terms for live music, hospitality and night-time businesses, again that will vary. The original more generous furlough scheme providing financial support for employees unable to work because of shutdown will be extended, so some companies and employees may be better off. Though the short notice of that extension means some employers who were already operating at a much lower capacity than normal will already have made some employees redundant.

The more full-on shutdown also potentially helps those live entertainment businesses who – under recent restrictions – could theoretically open, but not in a commercially viable way. By being outright forced to close under the new lockdown, those businesses may be able to access extra financial support.

However, the devil is – as always – in the detail. And the detail keeps changing. And not all the detail is as yet confirmed. For example, regarding whether financial support for freelancers, due to drop this month, will now increase again as a result of the fuller lockdown.

This weekend’s changes will definitely negatively impact plenty of businesses, and even those who might be better off, or whose circumstances don’t really change, still have to navigate all the complexities and confusions about what the rules say and what support is now available.

Commenting on the new lockdown, Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, told reporters on Saturday evening: “The announcement from the Prime Minister today will leave night time economy businesses facing a ‘financial armageddon’. It’s frightening to think that, given the gravity of the situation, we are still being given limited communication, consultation or time to respond, or plan around these decisions”.

“The entire night-time economy, consisting of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of workers, are suffering. Their plight is being made even worse by the huge void in financial support for the sector. Many of our businesses have experienced extreme financial hardship, been presented with unmanageable operational measures and have in some cases been forced into complete closure since March”.

He concluded: “Without immediate and significant government financial support and an exit strategy, it is not an exaggeration to say that this will be the final nail in the coffin for many night-time economy businesses. And even with support, many viable businesses will be lost. This moment will go down in history as the moment that the government destroyed a globally significant sector through poor communication and mismanagement”.

Meanwhile, Deborah Annetts, CEO of the ISM, put the spotlight on what the latest lockdown will mean for the many freelancers working in the music industry. She called for confirmation that the higher level of support for the self-employed that was due to end – and which paid 70% of each freelancer’s average earnings – will now be extending.

And, with COVID restrictions extending yet again, Annetts said that the technicalities that have stopped some freelancers from getting any financial support since shutdown began in March must finally be addressed.

She told reporters: “While protecting the population must be a priority, today’s announcement by the Prime Minister will have devastating consequences for our world-leading music industry, which is already suffering from the impact of earlier restrictions. For months we have warned the government that self-employed musicians are in desperate financial difficulty whilst venues remain closed, with our highly-skilled workforce struggling to survive without an income since March and excluded from government support”.

“Now, with no prospect of future work on the horizon”, she went on, “the government has a moral duty to reform the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, maintaining the level of support at 70%, and expanding the eligibility criteria to include the estimated three million who have been excluded. Before this crisis, music and the creative industries made an essential contribution to the health, wealth and culture of our nation. Unless the government introduces meaningful support, we are looking at the devastation of the performing arts and a permanent exodus of talent”.