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LIVE CEO Jon Collins sets out key priorities

Jon Collins, the recently appointed CEO of live music industry umbrella group LIVE, has spoken to IQ about the organisation’s key priorities going forward.

Collins was appointed following a 25-year career running representative organisations in the hospitality industry. His most recent role was as chairman of the Institute of Licensing and the National Licensing Forum. He has also held roles including lead author for the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Night Time Commission for London and as a senior adviser to UK Hospitality, where Collins focused specifically on late night and music licensing issues.

According to Collins, there is “no shortage” of issues facing the sector but in this first instalment of a two-part interview, he focuses on four of the most pressing matters.

VAT reduction, government engagement, post-Brexit touring and the cost of living crisis are top of the CEO’s agenda and, here, he sets out his plan of action to tackle each item.

“I think a cultural VAT rate of 5% on ticket sales would send a great signal about the government’s attitude to culture and live music within the UK, recognising its role as a driver of tourism, both domestic and international. It would actually boost the government’s Levelling Up agenda too because live music sits right across the country.

“Plus, it would be an economic generator that would make more venues viable and gigs more affordable. It’s going to put more money back in to allow us to keep more money in the industry, which allows us to pay artists better, pay students better, pay bar staff better. And we know that thriving live music venues act as a hub for culture-led regeneration in an area, all sorts of neighbourhoods up and down the country where they’re either defined by an existing music venue or they can be transformed when a venue moves in.

“There are cultural rates in a couple of dozen other countries, which are probably somewhere between 5 and 10%, so we think there’s established precedent elsewhere to say this is a good idea. We need to do another piece of economic research to show that if they cut VAT, the cost will be offset via reduced tax revenue. If you keep venues open and they put on more gigs, you’re getting 5% of a bigger cake than you would have had from the current 20% VAT rate.

“Then there are the other multiplier factors that would benefit the economy but we don’t have those numbers to hand yet, so we need to build that case. If we can get if we can win the arguments with the Treasury, then we might be close to getting the political decision-makers to press the button on it. I would love to think we’re close on this one but my guess would be that it’s a two-year campaign.”

“I think a cultural VAT rate of 5% would send a great signal about the government’s attitude to culture and live music”

Cost of living crisis
“It’s not in any industry’s gift to put more money into the consumer’s pocket, so the first thing we can do add pressure on the government to say they need to take steps to support households so that they do have disposable income and can visit their local gig venues. That money will then go back into the local economy and is a good investment to make. And then you can look at what the government could do to give operators and promoters and festival organisers more leeway to make cheaper tickets available. That brings you back to VAT and also business rates, which is such an outmoded, old fashioned system that just doesn’t work anymore and certainly doesn’t address the balance between the clicks and bricks economies.

“In New York, if a theatre doesn’t have an event on, they don’t pay rates on the auditorium. They only pay rates on the office space that is actually being used or maybe the kiosk on the curbside here. We don’t have that flexibility. So we think now would be a really a sensible idea – if there’s nothing going on in the theatre or a good venue or an arena then give them a break. Otherwise, you end up just constantly trying to make the space being used, which can mean you don’t have the time to actually do any refurbishments in the venue.”

“I want to have half a dozen figures that I can use to say, ‘This is why it’s in your interest to support live music'”

“With LIVE’s multi-year funding and its expanding member base, we’ve definitely sent a message to government that it should take this sector seriously. The thing with policymakers is they change every five minutes. I think the average lifespan of a minister in a role is about 18 months. So you send the message, but you have to keep sending it and refining it and amplifying it.

“Greg [Parmley, former LIVE CEO] worked with Chris [Carey, LIVE chief economist] to produce a robust report very quickly that said this industry has a £4.5 billion GVA and employs 210,000 people. They are take-me-seriously numbers at a time when most people felt our industry wasn’t being taken seriously. If we’re very honest, we probably still feel we’re not taken seriously enough and so that’s another challenge for me is to make sure that government is unable to underestimate us. We will be taking every opportunity we can to put those numbers forward, talk about the industry, how many people we employ, the regeneration that happens, the tourism etc. So we’re talking with multiple partners at the moment to try and pull all of these facts and figures together. I want to have about half a dozen figures that I can use to say, ‘This is why you have to support this sector – this is why it’s in your interest to support live music’.”

“A cultural exemption would just remove all of these [post-Brexit touring] issues”

“The LIVE touring group, brilliantly chaired by Craig Stanley, has done a tremendous job of trying to negotiate through government and then the EU for those post-Brexit touring challenges. But there is more to do because there’s not a stable framework.

“We’ve got the dual registration, which works for the larger specialist hauliers for this summer. We think we’re going to get a statutory instrument, probably when parliament comes back after the summer, around September, that will formalise that. Then there has also been progress on splitter vans, ferries and the Eurotunnel.

“But we know none of this solves the issue for a swathe of hauliers in the squeezed middle as we’re viewing them now. There is no obvious solution [for the squeezed middle]. There may be ways that they could find to step into that dual licensing regime, but that’s not cheap and not straightforward. The dual registration also doesn’t help own-account operators, which is the vast majority of British orchestras because of the particular needs of the classical music sector. So we continue to put the pressure on there.

“One of the things that LIVE was able to achieve just before I joined was to get a seat on the domestic advisory group of the trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and the EU. It’s basically the group that advises the UK government as it looks to shape its relationship with the EU going forward. We want to talk about the bigger ask of cultural exemption for artists and the technic technical teams and kit. I think it’d be almost impossible to get that before 2024 which is when the trade and cooperation agreement is next to be negotiated. So, we’ve probably got a couple of years of trying to make wins in a piece-by-piece way, while having that overarching target of the cultural exemption because that would just remove all of these issues.”


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