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UK general election: What the live biz wants

As the United Kingdom gears up for next month’s general election, a range of music organisations have told IQ how the new government can best help the live business.

The main political parties have now put out their manifestos ahead of the 4 July vote, with varying degrees of support for the arts. Labour, the party currently leading all opinion polls to form the UK’s next government, has reiterated its pledge to cap ticket resale if it wins the election.

“Access to music, drama and sport has become difficult and expensive because of ticket touting,” it states. “Labour will put fans back at the heart of events by introducing new consumer protections on ticket resales.”

While stressing that Britain will remain outside the European Union, the party vows to improve EU touring for UK artists.

“Labour will work to improve the UK’s trade and investment relationship with the EU, by tearing down unnecessary barriers to trade,” it says. “We will seek to negotiate a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks and help tackle the cost of food; will help our touring artists; and secure a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications to help open up markets for UK service exporters.”

Touring regulations also feature in the Liberal Democrats and Green Party manifestos, with the former saying it would push to “negotiate free and simple short-term travel arrangements for UK artists to perform in the EU, and European artists to perform in the UK”, and the latter promising to “ensure that musicians have access to visa-free travel to the EU through negotiating a reciprocal arrangement at the earliest possible opportunity”.

“This will be a government seeking to kickstart economic growth, and implementing the right policies to support the live music sector”

The Lib Dems also set out their desire to “protect fans from being exploited by ticket touts by implementing the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendations to crack down on illegal ticket resale”.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, pledge to “extend our Community Ownership Fund to help more communities across the UK take control of vital community assets like pubs, music venues, libraries, green spaces, leisure centres and more”.

Stressing its support for apprenticeships as “a key pipeline of talent into our world-leading creative industries”, the party adds: “We will work with industry to deliver a dedicated flexible coordination service so that everyone who wants to work in the film, TV, gaming and music sectors can work on live productions whilst benefiting from at least 12 months of secure training.”

Jon Collins, CEO of LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), which serves as the collective voice of the UK live music business, says the trade body is looking forward to working with the next government on “a range of issues that require a fresh focus, considered investment and informed action”.

“With Labour likely to form that government, it is very encouraging to see many of our key asks set out in their manifesto and their action plan for the arts, culture and creative industries,” he says. “This will be a government seeking to kickstart economic growth, and implementing the right policies to support the live music sector with a value of £5.2 billion will deliver that growth – both domestically and internationally.

“Labour is committed to facilitating easier touring arrangements with the EU which will critically drive up activity; the current provisions have seen a 74% drop in activity and left orchestras either unable to tour or facing prohibitive costs. We welcome Labour’s support for our grassroots sector and look forward to working with ministers to ensure grassroots music venues are able to thrive, update them on the progress of the LIVE Trust, and ease the trading environment through business rates reform.”

“The rest of the world recognises this country as a beacon of music innovation, and it’s vital that an incoming government maximises that potential”

Collins adds: “Whilst not a manifesto commitment, we will be looking to the next government to act on the recommendations made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in their recent report (May 2024) on grassroots music venues to reduce VAT on tickets and undertake a comprehensive economic analysis of the impact of a reduced rate applied across the sector.

“We are pleased that Labour has committed to take forward our proposals published in our Live Music Manifesto on secondary ticketing and reforming the apprenticeship levy. LIVE will work with the next government on plans to deliver Martyn’s Law in a way that protects fans without putting unnecessary burdens on venues and festivals.”

Last week, the Music Venue Trust (MVT) published a report entitled, A Manifesto for Grassroots Music, which outlined the steps the charity says are required in order to stem the closures of grassroots music venues and bring stability to the sector.

“In 2023, of the 366 small music venues Ed Sheeran played while learning his trade, at least 150 are now closed,” said MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “Another 72 grassroots music venues significantly reduced or ended their live music offer. 38% of GMVs in the UK made a loss in the last 12 months. The sector operated on a 0.5% profit margin overall while running live music events at a £115 million loss.

“All of this can be changed if the next government delivers the five simple steps we have set out.”

Music Managers Forum (MMF) CEO Annabella Coldrick highlighted touring, the grassroots scene and streaming as key areas of concern.

“When the general election was called, the industry was in deep discussion with policy makers about reforms to music streaming and to grassroots live music,” she says. “In the next parliament, those discussions must be transformed into tangible actions – and fast! Our artists and music makers deserve nothing less.

“Underpinned by those reforms, it’s really important that music, culture and the creative industries are at the heart of the UK’s business and growth strategy. The rest of the world recognises this country as a beacon of music innovation, and it’s vital that an incoming government maximises that potential – for instance, by negotiating new improved touring arrangements for UK artists wanting to perform in Europe, and by addressing our concerns about exorbitant visa fees for the US. Both have been a real focus for the MMF, and for the FAC, with our joint #LetTheMusicMove campaign.”

“To reset the market, we want the UK to follow the example of Ireland and outlaw ticket resale for profit”

David Martin, CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), says: “The FAC’s priority is to ensure that the momentum to drive forward artist-friendly reforms of streaming and the sustainability of the live music ecosystem continue into the next Parliament. The next government must take forward the work that was started by the Culture Media & Sport Select Committee in these areas. We can’t let progress slip.

“There are plenty of challenges facing our industry, but with a UK music strategy for growth the next government can maximise its untapped potential. Through practical changes to the way we do business – such as implementing fair royalty rates or a live ticket levy that directly supports artists – British music will thrive. The new government should legislate on these issues if industry consensus cannot be found.”

Unsurprisingly, the focus for Adam Webb, campaign manager of of anti-touting pressure group FanFair Alliance, is on cleaning up secondary ticketing.

“To reset the market, we want the UK to follow the example of Ireland and outlaw ticket resale for profit,” he tells IQ. “Thankfully, because of FanFair’s campaigning, this is firmly on the radar of politicians. The Labour Party has already committed to introducing a 10% cap on resale prices, and action against ticket touting is one of the key music-related pledges in their manifesto. The Liberal Democrats also have a manifesto commitment to clamp down on speculative ticketing and other anti-consumer practices.

“Alongside that, I’d like to see the Competition & Markets Authority provided with new enforcement powers. The UK’s ticket resale market is not highly regulated. We need that to change, and for capped consumer-friendly ticket resale to be made more visible and viable.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) plans to resume its Five Percent For Festivals campaign – calling for a reduced VAT from 20% to 5% on ticket sales for the next three years – post-election.

“We are delighted to see so many references to music and meaningful commitments that will change our members’ lives for the better”

“I think there will be intervention. My concern is that by the time something does happen, how many [festivals] will have gone?” AIF CEO John Rostron told IQ earlier this month. “What’s good for us is there is an election about to happen, so we’ll have a new group of politicians with a five-year mandate, and that is stronger to work with than where we were, which was with a group of MPs that didn’t know how long their futures would be.”

Elsewhere, the Musicians’ Union (MU) has welcomed the Labour Party Manifesto, saying it tackles many of the issues the organisation has raised with the party on behalf of members.

“The MU is Labour-affiliated and, along with fellow unions, we have been involved in shaping policy for a Labour government for many years now,” says MU general secretary Naomi Pohl. “Having not had significant access to Conservative ministers, with a few notable exceptions, we have a chance of a government that prioritises the arts and wants to engage with us on issues facing musicians.

“This is the first time that the MU has been so directly involved in the Labour Party manifesto process and had a chance to influence the final document. We are delighted to see so many references to music and meaningful commitments that will change our members’ lives for the better.

“While we know our membership is a broad church politically, we would be missing a once in a generation opportunity if we didn’t encourage musicians to vote Labour. This is an opportunity to shift the dial for the creative workforce of today and tomorrow.”

 


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Naomi Pohl elected MU general secretary

On International Women’s Day, the UK’s Musicians’ Union (MU) has confirmed that Naomi Pohl has been elected as the first female general secretary in its history.

Pohl has worked full-time for the MU – the leading organisation for musicians in the UK – since 2009, spending the past three years as deputy general secretary. Previously, she served as the Union’s national organiser for recording and broadcasting.

Pohl, who succeeds Horace Trubridge in the role, will be responsible for the administration of the MU’s affairs nationwide in partnership with the MU’s elected executive committee.

“I am delighted and humbled to have been elected to the role of MU general secretary,” she says. “It means a great deal that musicians across genres and disciplines have put their faith in me and I want nothing more than to deliver for them all.

“Thank you to all members who engaged with the election process, took the time to vote and who reached out to me directly with feedback about the Union. I also want to acknowledge our fantastic activists, staff and officials; I couldn’t hope to work with a more dedicated and passionate team of people.

“To all those who didn’t vote for me, I hear that you want change. The Union is here for every musician, and I hope it can be a unifying force as we take on many challenges collectively – please reach out.”

After the toughest imaginable two years for musicians, there is plenty of work to do”

Prior to the MU, Pohl was assistant general secretary at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.

“After the toughest imaginable two years for musicians, there is plenty of work to do,” she adds. “We can improve pay for our employed and freelance members post-pandemic, tackle the impact of Brexit and fix streaming. We will also ensure we meet the objectives set out in the MU Equality Action Plan, in the UK Music Diversity Ten Point Plan, and we will continue our vital work to eliminate discrimination and harassment from the industry.

“In order to secure the future of the profession, we will also launch a new music education campaign and move arts funding back up the Union’s lobbying agenda during my term. I know these are issues that really matter to musicians.”

The general secretary position is the most senior post in the organisation, which was founded in 1893 and consists of more than 32,000 members. The electoral process consisted of a series of meetings in all six of the Union’s democratic regions and a comprehensive postal ballot of all members.

Trubridge, who served in the role from 2017-2022, adds: ‘It’s been an honour and a privilege to lead the Union for the last five years, ably assisted by Naomi and assistant general secretary Phil Kear.

“I have had the pleasure of promoting Naomi up through the ranks and I am delighted to hear that she has won the election to become the MU’s very first female general secretary.”

 


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