Business News Live Business Top Stories

As UK government publishes plan for ending COVID-19 shutdown, UK Music calls for music industry specific taskforce

By | Published on Tuesday 12 May 2020

UK Music

Cross-sector trade group UK Music yesterday called on the British government to set up a specific taskforce to help the music industry navigate the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown and the slow relaxation of shutdown measures that is planned for the next few months.

After a flurry of mixed messaging in the British newspapers last week; a TV address from Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson that reassured some and confused everyone else; and a series of contradictory statements from Johnson’s top team that were simultaneously hilarious and horrifying; an official document was published yesterday called ‘Our Plan To Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy’.

It sets out a three step “roadmap” for relaxing the shutdown measures put in place in the UK to restrict and delay the spread of COVID-19. The priority is seemingly getting those people who have been unable to work in recent weeks – because their jobs weren’t deemed essential and they can’t do said jobs from home – back into the workplace. Though preferably without everyone swamping the country’s significantly scaled-back public transport networks (yeah, good luck with that).

Of course, even for competent governments, planning for an end to shutdown is tricky, given that there are still so many unknowns about the spread and impact of COVID-19, and concerns remain that – while the number of new cases and number of deaths may have peaked in many countries – there could as yet be a second spike of infections. It’s all the harder in those countries like the UK where lacklustre testing and dubious maths means it’s hard to know to what extent you really are beyond the first (and hopefully only) peak.

This means that people and businesses are unlikely to get anything like the clarity they want about exactly when different measures will be dropped; when things will start to get back to something like normal; and quite what the risk is that as soon as normality returns another COVID-19 spike will force all those draconian measures back into effect. Though, in a way, those governments brave enough to say “there’ll be no more concerts until at least October” are more helpful than those that say “some point, soon, maybe later, maybe, maybe, maybe”.

Under the current UK plan (although not all of the UK plan applies to all of the UK), non-essential retail will start to re-open in early June and then hospitality and leisure businesses might be able to open again in early July. Though, while “hospitality and leisure” could include pubs and cinemas, sporting and entertainment venues are unlikely to be included until later. As a halfway house, it’s thought that maybe sporting and cultural events could resume behind closed doors in June, basically turning venues into studios.

Throughout all of that process social-distancing rules will remain. That has, of course, sparked much debate as to what such rules will mean for how many people any one shop, bar and venue will be allowed to admit at any one time and how those people are then policed. And, most importantly, whether such restrictions affect the commercial viability of re-opening those businesses and, in the case of venues, of staging events in them.

Responding to the UK government’s grand three stage plan, UK Music Chair Tom Watson said yesterday: “The government is right to try to move towards kickstarting our economy, provided it can ensure protecting public health is paramount at all times. However, these latest proposals on the easing of the coronavirus lockdown are missing the clarity that the UK music industry so desperately needs”.

And, while clarity is – as noted – tricky at the moment, governments elsewhere in the world have offered more of it, Watson implied. “There is a risk the British music industry will be left behind as other countries come out of lockdown”, he went on. “We cannot afford that to happen to the UK’s world-leading music industry which is really suffering”.

With all that in mind, “we would urge the government to establish a formal taskforce with the music industry to ensure our businesses and events are COVID-19 secure – so our members can try to plan for the months ahead”.

In addition to more clarity on coming out of lockdown, Watson also sought reassurances that the government won’t phase out too early the various economic support schemes that have been set up in response to COVID-19. He concluded: “It is vital that while we all work towards getting the live industry under way again and record stores reopened, that all the government support packages are not cut back until we get back on our feet”.