"They should turn off the music – or close down" is the message from government, says MVT, after HM Treasury confirmed venues are ineligible for a rates discount
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“A profound and positive step”: representatives from the UK live industry celebrate a 50% cut in business rates for venues, as Independent Venue Week gets underway
By Anna Grace on 27 Jan 2020
Venue operators and others from across the UK live industry have expressed their support for a 50% cut in business rates for small- and mid-sized grassroots music venues, in a “much-needed” boost for the country’s live venues.
After several years of campaigning by charity the Music Venue Trust (MVT), umbrella organisation UK Music and others, the government has slashed business rates – the tax levied on non-residential property in the UK – by half for music venues, saving grassroots music venues an average of £7,500 a year.
The decision releases over £1.7 million back into the grassroots live music sector, benefitting 230 venues across England and Wales. The news follows the establishment of a £1.5m Arts Council England fund dedicated to the grassroots sector last year.
The announcement comes as Independent Venue Week kicks off in the UK. Over 800 live shows will take place throughout the week at the UK’s best independent venues, including performances by Nadine Shah at the Cluny (300-cap.) in Newcastle, Frank Turner at the Exeter Tavern (220-cap. and Anna Calvi at the Windmill Brixton (150-cap.) in London.
“This is incredibly welcome news,” Tom Kiehl, deputy CEO of UK Music, tells IQ. “We have campaigned hard to get the recognition that music venues should qualify for rates relief.
“There is no uniform issue behind venue closures and other challenges remain in terms of planning and licensing, but this will make a real difference and will give more stability for venues, especially those living on the breadline,” says Kiehl, who notes the rates relief is a “profound and positive step” for the UK talent pipeline.
“We thank the government for being so forthcoming.”
“This will make a real difference and will give more stability for venues, especially those living on the breadline”
A 2017 hike in business rates has had a harmful effect on UK grassroots venues over the past few years, with venues being exempted from the tax relief granted to other small retailers. Over a third (35%) of UK venues have closed down in the past decade, including DHP Family’s the Borderline, which had hosted acts including Debbie Harry, Blur, Muse and Amy Winehouse over more than 30 years in business.
Venue operators have also reacted positively to the news. Richard Buck, CEO of TEG MJR comments: “We very much welcome the change in business rates. It’s a much-needed, positive step which will benefit the grassroots venues that are the foundations of our industry.”
The former MJR Group, which was acquired by Sydney-based TEG in August, looks after venues including the Tramshed (1,000-cap.) in Cardiff, the Mill (1,000-cap.) in Birmingham and the Warehouse (750-cap.) in Leeds.
Julie Tipping from Nottingham-based promoter and venue operator DHP Family says MVT has done “a fantastic job getting a significant discount rate relief for some grassroots venues”. However, they “are not yet sure what impact this will have for DHP’s venues”, which include London venues the Garage (600-cap.), Oslo (375-cap.) and the Grace (150-cap.), as well as award-winning boat venue Thekla (400-cap.) in Bristol.
“It’s a much-needed, positive step which will benefit the grassroots venues that are the foundations of our industry”
“It’s great news for grassroots venues in this country that are eligible,” adds Tipping, “the question will be how many that is and what will happen to any that don’t get this benefit in the long term.
“Everyone seems to agree that taxing bricks and mortar is outdated in an increasing digital age, so we need government to come up with a fairer taxation system.”
Bert Van Horck, CEO of independent UK promoter and venue operator VMS Live says: “We’re delighted that the government is supporting this important cultural sector with a reduction in business rates that will help up and coming talent.”
VMS Live, which operates mid-sized UK venues including Eventim Olympia Liverpool (1,960-cap.), Asylum in Hull (1,100-cap.) and the William Aston Hall in Wrexham (1,200-cap.), is dedicated to “operating the venues at the start of artists’ creative journey”, adds Van Horck.
“Business rates are one of our largest annual overheads,” says Rebecca Walker, assistant general manager of the Leadmill (900-cap.) in Sheffield.
“Everyone seems to agree that taxing bricks and mortar is outdated in an increasing digital age”
“Thanks to the incredible work of all of the MVT team, this significant reduction will really help us to invest in not only music and the arts, but the staff and infrastructure needed to continue putting on great shows for the people of Sheffield.”
Toni Coe-Brooker, of venue manager of the Green Store Door in Brighton (200-cap.), says the team is “relieved” by the news.
“The rate relief we will receive as a grassroots music venue will make a significant impact on our ability to continue doing what we do, supporting our local community and incubating new talent.”
Mark Davyd, CEO and founder of MVT, says the news is “another foundation stone” in the building of a “vibrant, sustainable, world class grassroots music venue sector”.
Davyd admits there is “still a lot to be done on this issue”, with collaboration needed with governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure “a level playing field” for venues’ access to business rates and public subsidies across the UK.
“It’s now time for recording, streaming and publishing interests to play their part,” adds Davyd. “Billions of pounds in revenue are being generated in the music industry from the music that is tested, developed, finds its audience and emerges from these vital spaces. PRS for Music, PPL, Universal, Warners, Sony, Spotify, Apple and Google now need to come to the table and tell us what they are going to do to make sure that continues to happen.”
This article will be updated with reactions as we receive them.
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