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UK fury as government delays reopening date

The UK live industry has made an urgent plea for financial support, warning that the "devastating" delay to ‘Freedom Day’ on 21 June threatens thousands of jobs

By Gordon Masson on 14 Jun 2021

UK PM Boris Johnson will make an announcement tonight

UK PM Boris Johnson made the announcement today


image © Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

The British government today (14 June) confirmed that live entertainment businesses will have to endure another month of closure, after deciding that the 21 June date on its roadmap to recovery should be delayed while it deals with the spread of the Delta (Indian) variant of Covid-19.

The devastating decision places numerous businesses in jeopardy, wiping an estimated 5,000 concerts, festivals and events from the calendar and costing the UK industry hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenues.

“Following more than a year of confusion, lost revenue and cancellations, we are devastated the government has not set out any clear path for the restart of the live music industry,” reads a statement from trade body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment). “The government has been quick to talk up the success of the vaccine rollout, but other countries are now ahead of us in opening up full capacity events with simple Covid certification processes, including the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States.

 “The government must also provide urgent emergency financial support to those impacted by today’s decision. There are hundreds of millions of pounds from the much-vaunted Culture Recovery Fund unallocated, despite being 15 months on from the start of the crisis. This money needs to get into the industry without any more delay.” 

“It is devastating for the live music sector that we continue to be hit with arbitrary restrictions which make live events unviable,” says Lucy Noble, chair of the National Arenas Association. “The Events Research Programme pilot events were supposed to be the key to getting back to full-capacity live performance, and we understand that there were only 15 cases out of 58,000 attendees – although government is refusing to either publish the full report or to allow the sector to open up with the carefully planned precautions which we have been planning and putting in place for months.” 

“It is devastating for the live music sector that we continue to be hit with arbitrary restrictions which make live events unviable”

“LIVE remains astounded that the findings have never published in full, given their centrality to the reopening of live events,” continues the statement. “This data must be published immediately so that the sector is able to see on what basis the government is making decisions about the industry’s future, and so that we can play a collaborative role in future proofing live events for years to come.”

“Failure to take immediate action to support the sector could tip many hundreds of grassroots music venues into the abyss,” comments Music Venue Trust (MVT) CEO Mark Davyd.

“The issue is not simply about a delay in reopening or lifting restrictions. It may on the surface look like a short and manageable pause. But there is no provision in place to bridge the resultant funding gap should this occur. Without some certainty on exactly when grassroots music venues can start trading at full capacity again the majority of the sector, already barely surviving on life support, could flat line.”

Davyd’s plea for financial support has been echoed throughout the nation’s live music community.

“The briefing we are seeing of a delay to our reopening later this month is devastating to the live music industry,” “The government said the Events Research Programme would give us the evidence we needed to open safely. We have spent the last three months participating in, and paying for, full-capacity pilot events that gave us this evidence.

“To protect the future of our industry we are calling for full transparency from the government, for them to release the full report that proves how we can open safely and to work with us to give everyone the summer of music we all want.”

“The government said the Events Research Programme would give us the evidence we needed to open safely”

Meanwhile, a flash survey conducted on behalf of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) reveals the hammer blow that the rumoured delay will have on nightlife business such as clubs and venues, with one in four businesses stating they will not survive longer than one month without further government support, while 50% of the industry say they would not survive longer than two months without aid.

The NTIA research notes that 54% of businesses have spent more than £15,000 in preparation for reopening on 21 June already, while 17.8% have spent more than £40,000. And 58% of businesses estimate they will lose more than £10,000 per week in revenue whilst restricted from trading due to easing of lockdown on 21 June, and a third of businesses estimate they will lose 30% of their workforce due to any delay.

“Night-time economy businesses have waited patiently for their opportunity to open for over 15 months,” says NTIA CEO Michael Kill. “Many have not survived, some are on a financial cliff edge, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, a huge pool of talent has been swept away and others have been left to suffer extreme financial hardship.

“Distressed industries cannot continue to be held in limbo, as businesses are left to fall, any decision to delay without clarity on when they can open will leave us no other option but to challenge the government, standing alongside many other industries who have been locked down or restricted from opening for an extreme length of time, through no fault of their own, and at their own cost.”

And Kill notes, “Any delay will drive confidence in the sector to a new low, culminating in workforce leaving the sector, and customers who are starved of social engagement, attending illegal unregulated events in place of businesses that are well operated, licensed and regulated.”

“The government must understand the human impact of this decision”

“The government must understand the human impact of this decision, not only considering the public health challenges of the virus but also the people within our sector who are suffering terribly and the real health risks that this represents, given the overwhelming confidence in the vaccination roll-out, and the ability for the sector to deliver Covid-safe environments.”

Davyd says, “With no funding in place to mitigate any delay in reopening we will see mass evictions and foreclosures by landlords and creditors who ran out of patience a long time ago. The risk of business closures, widespread redundancies and the decimation of our sector is as real now as it was in April 2020.

“The government has the tools it needs to avert a disaster, whatever decisions it needs to make. It has allocated an additional £300 million to support the cultural sector; the prime minister or the culture secretary can swiftly announce that this money will be immediately released to tackle the challenges caused by any delay to reopening.”

Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), says while “AIF understands the rationale for delaying step four of the lockdown roadmap”, “any measures that prevent festivals from operating fully have to be counterbalanced with effective support to ensure businesses can survive.

“For those festival organisers that still have a chance of staging events after July 19, that support is government-backed insurance, which will give them the confidence to continue planning and commit the significant costs that entails. We also must not forget those festivals that have already been forced to cancel or will do so as a result of the delay – they will need a swift and comprehensive financial package to help them survive until the 2022 sales cycle.”

“Any measures that prevent festivals operating have to be counterbalanced with effective support”

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of UK Music, is also renewing calls for a government-backed insurance fund. “This delay is also exactly why our industry has desperately needed a government-backed insurance scheme,” he says. “Confidence will be at rock bottom within the sector after today – and so festival and event organisers desperately need that safety net from the Government so they can plan with confidence and avoid financial ruin if the rules change again.

“The UK has one of the most vibrant live music scenes in the world, and the music industry is one of the sectors that should be driving our economic and cultural recovery from this pandemic. If the industry is not to be allowed to operate without restrictions for another month, then continued economic support and an insurance scheme is more vital than ever.”

“If there is to be a one-month delay,” concludes LIVE, “the government must spend that time ensuring there is a simple Covid certification scheme in place by the end of it to ensure that full- capacity events can go ahead, as they are now doing in other countries such the US, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands. Businesses remain unable to plan or proceed in any meaningful way, leaving them hamstrung as part of an industry in limbo.

“With hundreds of millions of pounds of the Culture Recovery Fund left unallocated within government, this needs to be pushed out to the music and live entertainment industries urgently to tide the sector over until a concrete way forward is agreed.”

 


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