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Why the UK government must help save our live industry

Extended refund grace periods, VAT breaks on tickets and information on when business will resume are essential to safeguarding the industry, says UK Music’s Tom Kiehl

30 Apr 2020

Why the UK government must act to save our live industry

With Boomtown, Latitude and Trnsmt the latest to join Glastonbury and many others on the cancellation list, we are facing a wipeout of the summer festival season.

It is impossible to overstate the pain coronavirus is causing to the live music sector which contributes £1.1 billion a year to our economy and sustains more than 30,000 jobs.

Many organisers face losing huge amounts of money they have paid out, raising real fears some smaller festivals may never return unless they get urgent help.

Money has already been spent on deposits for artists and contractors, marketing and promotion, employee costs and the foundations needed for a major event.

Many independent festivals have said their insurance will not cover Covid-19. They rightly feel they are among those falling through the gaps in the safety net on offer from the government.

There is also the major issue of refunds, which could mean the end of the road for some festivals without a lifeline to help with their crippling cash flow problems.

It is not just festivals that are suffering. According to the Music Venue Trust, more than 550 cherished music venues are under immediate threat of closure because of the economic impact of the lockdown.

We are facing a wipeout of the summer festival season

However, amid the gloom and the continuing uncertainty over when the government’s restrictions on social distancing will be lifted, there are some glimmers of hope. A fightback is already well under way.

As the umbrella body and voice of the music business, UK Music is pressing the government to do more to help the whole sector including the live music industry.

Everyone is behind the fantastic #saveourvenues campaign launched by the Music Venue Trust to raise funds for 556 under-threat grassroots venues all over the UK. A series of livestreamed gigs are planned to raise cash.

Artists are livestreaming gigs from their living rooms, while PRS for Music staged its one-off LCKDWN earlier this month to celebrate the special role that music plays in all of our lives and to support the PRS Emergency Relief Fund.

Music licensing company PPL has made advance payments of £23.9 million to more than 15,000 performers and recording rightsholders to help them at this immensely difficult time.

There are also several hardship funds, which were quickly set up by the music industry to help the 190,000 people who work in it.

Among those involved are UK Music members including PRS for Music, PPL, the Musicians’ Union, AIM, the BPI and the PRS Foundation – as well as charities such as Help Musicians and the Music Venue Trust.

The music industry is doing all it can to help the 190,000 people who depend on it to make a living

The music industry is doing all it can to help the 190,000 people who depend on it to make a living.

However, there is more that the government should be doing to give the live music industry the best possible chance of recovery.

A survey for ITV’s Peston showed 40% of gig-goers did not intend to return to concerts until a vaccine is available which will mean a big drop in revenues.

Music fans may be tempted to request refunds for cancelled or postponed events, yet many small festivals and promoters could go out of business if there is a huge spike in claims.

Fans will then find it even harder to reclaim money and there will be no chance of a rescheduled event.

One of the key ways that the government could help is by extending the refund period on tickets.

This would enable event companies to give guarantees to those who have bought tickets that rescheduled events will go ahead.

The music industry needs a road map from government so it can plan a route out of the destruction caused by coronavirus

Music venues get business rate relief, but this should be extended to the entire supply chain in the music industry to include service companies, sound firms, lighting suppliers and others involved in event production.

VAT breaks on the price of tickets should also be considered to provide incentives to businesses and consumers to put on and go to live music shows.

Critically, the government needs to give the industry an idea about how long the restrictions on social distancing will remain so businesses can plan ahead.

If parts of the economy can go back to work before the live music sector, it is critical the government does not turn off the tap and scrap the support packages on offer. Arrangements around furloughing, self-employed schemes and business loan support all need to stay in place.

Already, some major events planned for this summer are being pushed into 2021. The music industry needs a road map from government so it can plan a route out of the destruction caused by coronavirus.

There will be many music fans who are only now realising just how important live music was to them now that it has gone – albeit temporarily.

We want the government to work with us to support the live music industry through this existential crisis so we can get performers back on stage to once again bring joy to millions here and across the world.


Tom Kiehl is acting CEO of music industry umbrella body UK Music.