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Latest UK support measures branded ‘inadequate’

Additional funds were announced as part of a £1 billion support package for hospitality and leisure businesses unveiled by chancellor Rishi Sunak

By James Hanley on 21 Dec 2021

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has offered little respite for the UK's suffering live industry

Chancellor Rishi Sunak

New financial support announced for businesses by the UK government in response to the spread of the omicron variant has been criticised as inadequate by live music trade bodies.

The additional measures – including a £30 million top-up to the Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) – were unveiled by chancellor Rishi Sunak today (21 December) as part of a £1 billion support package for hospitality and leisure. Grants of up to £6,000 are available per premise.

The news comes as new restrictions have been announced in Scotland, with more looking likely in Wales. However, music organisations say the extra funding, which adds to the £1.87bn previously made available through the CRF, falls short of requirements.

“We welcome the news that the government has started to deliver much-needed financial support, but with the live music sector teetering on the brink, the package falls short of the urgent cash injection businesses need to keep them afloat,” says a statement from LIVE.

“The amount of money pales in comparison to the mounting losses faced by the sector and the process will add layers of complexity at a time when businesses are already struggling with skeleton staff rotas and huge losses. We have been down this path earlier in the pandemic, with extensive form filling and application processes, by which point it will likely be too late.

“What we really need is an urgent boost that can help today by leaving money in businesses, such as an emergency reduction in VAT and deferral of loan repayments.”

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd says the amount of funding made available for live music organisations appeared “detached from the reality”.

Business has not just fallen, it has completely collapsed

“Regrettably, today’s announcement appears to be a woefully inadequate response to the reality of the position,” he says.  “Through a local authority distribution process, the treasury appears to be offering grassroots music venues up to £6,000, if they meet certain criteria. This sum is intended to mitigate losses for an as yet unknown period in which business has not just fallen, it has completely collapsed.

“The minimum length of that period, regardless of any restrictions or limitations to business yet to be announced, is six weeks – you can’t simply turn the live music industry on and off like a desk lamp, and tours and events are already cancelled. Not just today, or tomorrow, but for the next three months.

“Additionally, the Treasury has announced £30 million will be added to the Cultural Recovery Fund. Our initial response is that this funding seems bizarrely detached from reality. It is certainly completely inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem.”

The organisation reported last week that small venues had been hit by a catastrophic drop in attendance, advance ticket sales and spend per head since the government’s announcement of Plan B measures earlier this month.

Davyd points out that, despite being “singled out” for restrictions since the onset of the Covid crisis, grassroots music venues were not even mentioned in the statement, which instead focused on “theatres, orchestras and museums’, which will be supported “through until March 2022”.

Losses in the grassroots music venue sector alone will run to £22 million by the end of January

“This is despite DCMS having all the evidence they need that losses in the grassroots music venue sector alone will run to £22 million by the end of January, let alone the end of March 2022,” adds Davyd.

“The damage is already done and there is no point pretending otherwise. At least £22 million in losses by the end of next month will hit already beleaguered and exhausted grassroots music venue operators. This level of new debt fundamentally undermines the entire ecosystem that is the bedrock of a £5 billion world leading music industry.”

He continues: “We are constantly being told that the Culture Recovery Fund will save the day. For this to be true, it needs to be adequately funded to match the challenges the government is trying to deal with. Today’s statement by the treasury is not the answer that is needed.

“The secretary of state for culture must meet with the sector, properly understand the scale of the damage being inflicted, and return to the treasury with a financial ask that reflects what is required.”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, is similarly scathing in his response.

“Businesses are failing, people are losing their livelihoods and the industry is crippled,” he says. “Every pound of help is much needed. But this package is far too little and borders on the insulting.”

This lockdown of stealth is putting their already fragile businesses in real jeopardy

Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum, and David Martin, CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, stress that artists and industry professionals had been overlooked in the latest package.

“Artists currently find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place – encouraged by the government to carry on performing, while their audiences are advised to stay at home,” they said in a statement. “With months of uncertainty ahead, this lockdown by stealth is putting their already fragile businesses in real jeopardy. All compounded by the lack of a safety net and insurance schemes that the industry has universally derided as unfit for purpose.

“While the package announced today may help some venues and institutions, it is essential this is also made available to those appearing on the stage or working behind it. Without that concrete support, such as compensation for Covid-related cancellations and viable insurance solutions, we risk artists and tens of thousands of support workers becoming collateral damage to what feels like an unfurling catastrophe.”

Meanwhile, in Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced new restrictions from 26 December, including the cancellation of large-scale events such as Hogmanay celebrations.

Indoor gatherings will be limited to 100 people standing and 200 seated, while outdoor events will be restricted to 500-capacity, with 1m physical distancing at all events.

Sturgeon also announced that support for businesses affected by Covid-19 will be increased by a further £275 million.

Yesterday, Wales also announced that spectators would be banned from all indoor, outdoor, professional and community sports events in the country from Boxing Day. There has not yet been any announcement about the closure of indoor or outdoor music venues, although economy minister Vaughan Gething said new restrictions will need to be introduced.


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