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Music industry comments on UK budget fun times

By | Published on Tuesday 30 October 2018

Houses Of Parliament

UK music industry reps have welcomed some of the initiatives announced by the Chancellor Of The Exchequer Philip Hammond in his budget speech yesterday, including a cash boost for schools, a rates cut for small businesses and a proposed new tax for digital platforms. Though, of course, the devil is very much in the detail.

The state of music education provision in the UK has been quite a talking point in recent years. Music educators – and increasingly the music industry too – have expressed concerns that funding cuts, curriculum priorities and the criteria by which schools are assessed have all resulted in access to decent music education becoming a privilege rather than the norm.

Hammond didn’t deal with any of that directly, although he did announce a one-off £400 million cash boost to be spent on “that extra bit of kit” that each school needs. Teaching unions noted that, given the financial pressure many schools are under to deliver just basic services, having an extra bit of cash to buy some new gadgets isn’t much of a fix. Although, in theory, some of that extra money could be spent on musical kit.

Michael Dugher, boss of cross-sector music industry trade group UK Music, said yesterday: “UK Music called for a review of music funding in state schools to halt the spiral of decline that is the current worrying situation in state education. The Chancellor’s decision to provide schools with new funds could offer much needed short term relief, providing that this can be invested in new music facilities and instruments”.

Deborah Annetts, CEO of the Incorporated Society Of Musicians, which sits outside the UK Music framework and has many music teachers among its membership, also welcomed the cash boost, presumably also hoping some of it can be spent on music kit. She told reporters: “We welcome the government’s decision to invest a much-needed extra £400 million in our schools. It is vital that our children have access to the very best education within both primary and secondary settings so that they can make the most of all of their talents”.

However, of course – as the teaching unions said about Hammond’s gesture in general – even if some of the £400 million can be spent on music kit, that doesn’t deal with the wider issues around music education provision. To that end Dugher added that “ensuring that children from all backgrounds have access to music, including instruments, is not about providing ‘little extras’. Music should be a right and an opportunity for children to experience everywhere”.

The cut in business rates for small businesses is really about helping the high street and those bricks-and-mortar retailers who continue to lose out to online operators. And that, of course, includes independent entertainment retailers.

But Dugher said that UK Music will seek to ensure that the cut also applies to other small businesses for which business rates can be a killer. He said: “The cut in business rates for small retailers is welcome. The government must ensure that music venues and studios, who have in recent years faced huge hikes in business rates, stand to benefit from this”.

Alongside the cut in business rates, Hammond also announced a relaxation of planning rules to make it easy to build new homes on old retail sites that are now sitting empty. Which makes sense, although – Dugher pointed out – also raises concerns about yet more homes being plonked next to existing music venues, potentially posing future licensing problems as new neighbours complain about noise.

With that in mind, UK Music added, the recently adopted agent of change principle, where those building any new homes next to existing venues must anticipate and address future noise issues in their plans, is more important than ever. Said Dugher: “Plans announced to liberalise the planning system in order to turn commercial properties into residential accommodation must also be carried out with full regard to the ‘agent of change’ principle to protect music venues”.

He added: “This must not be an opportunity for developers seeking more residential building to ride roughshod over struggling, pre-existing music businesses. We need measures that make things easier, not harder, to nurture and grow the night-time economy”.

And finally, there was Hammond’s big announcement of a new 2% tax on the big digital platforms, which he aims to introduce in 2020 following a consultation. Although he didn’t name them specifically, that initiative aims to increase the monies paid by the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon into the UK taxation system, them all being known for employing sneaky tactics to reduce their respective tax liabilities.

On that, Dugher said: “It is absolutely right that tech giants should pay more tax to the UK. We look forward to working with the government in the development of this to ensure it is carefully designed and does not turn into an online sales tax”.

Meanwhile Annetts added: “We also hope that the tech tax of 2% will be used by the government to invest in the creative industries, including music, at this critical time as music faces serious challenges in a post-Brexit world. Never has there been a more important time to invest in both the music industry and music education – the key driver of the talent pipeline for one of our most important industries”.