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Government needs to make a £50 million cash injection to save the UK’s grassroots venue network, says MVT

By | Published on Friday 19 June 2020

Music Venue Trust

The UK’s Music Venue Trust has this morning called on the government to provide an urgent £50 million cash injection to prevent the closure of a plethora of venue businesses over the next three months. The trade group says that sector-specific support is now required to help the UK’s network of grassroots music venues survive the ongoing pressures of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Those pressures, MVT says, are having a “catastrophic effect” on its membership and beyond. As a result, the UK music industry is facing “a substantial loss of infrastructure, with 90% of venues and festivals currently facing permanent closure”.

It goes on: “This would result in the total collapse of the sector and thousands of job cuts including promoters, production companies, managers, agents, artists and others, which form part of an inter-dependent eco-system that is the UK music industry, alongside the loss of very substantial VAT and income tax receipts by [the UK] government”.

Although some music companies, and freelancers working in the industry, have been able to access the UK government’s general financial support schemes during the COVID-19 shutdown, there hasn’t been any specific support for the music or wider creative industries to date.

Plus, the specifics of those general support schemes mean plenty of independent music businesses and self-employed music industry professionals have so far received no support at all. Even those that have benefited from the general support schemes fear that support will dry up before their businesses are back up and running, given all the uncertainties that remain regarding when shows of different levels will be able to return post-shutdown.

The £50 million cash injection proposed by MVT would, it says, ensure the survival of 800 grassroots music venues around the UK, many of which will otherwise go out of business between now and the end of September. It is also proposing a three-year VAT holiday for the wider live industry – benefiting festivals, promoters and bigger venues too as they seek to rebuild their businesses post-shutdown.

Noting the UK Music stat that says that the music industry delivers a gross value add of £5.2 billion to the UK economy, MVT says that a £50 million cash injection would be a relatively small investment to ensure the survival of a grassroots venue network that plays a crucial role in the development and growth of all the new music talent on which the future of the wider music industry depends.

MVT CEO Mark Davyd adds: “When we eventually emerge from lockdown, grassroots music venues, the absolute bedrock, the foundations, the cornerstone on which our world beating £5.2 billion per year industry has been built, are going to be essential to live music bouncing back. It is therefore economically short sighted and frankly ridiculous to put a £5 billion a year industry at long term risk for lack of a short term £50 million investment”.

MVT and its member venues have been running various fundraising initiatives in recent months under the #saveourvenues banner to provide short-term financial support to those venues, with more than £2 million raised so far. But relying on donations in the longer term isn’t viable, MVT says, both as shutdown extends, and as venues deal with the various challenges of getting things back up and running once lockdown rules are sufficiently relaxed.

Says Davyd: “The generosity shown towards our #saveourvenues campaign since we launched it in April has been staggering. The £2 million we have raised to date has saved literally hundreds of venues in the short term, but the situation is still dire and relying on donations simply isn’t sustainable as we move into a recovery phase. With that in mind let’s act now and protect what we have, because what we have is incredible and it is ridiculous to put ourselves in the position where we might permanently lose it for less than 1% of the income it generates for us every single year”.

“£50 million in financial support and a temporary tax cut, that’s all we are asking”, he concludes. “Who loses if this doesn’t happen? Not just the venues, not just the artists, not just the audiences, not just our communities. The government is the biggest loser of all here; billions of pounds of future tax revenues is on the line. Every other serious cultural country in the world is acting to protect its future talent pipeline, and they don’t even have the incredible talent and the vibrant pipeline we have in the UK. We need our government to step up, we need them to do it now”.

The UK government is under increasing pressure to provide significant and specific support to all the creative industries, all of which have been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown, with those based around live performance hardest hit. Earlier this week the Creative Industries Federation said that – without urgent government intervention – the COVID-19 pandemic would result in a “cultural catastrophe”, with the creative industries set to be hit twice as hard by COVID than the economy overall and a fifth of all creative sector jobs – a total of 406,000 – under threat.

CIF boss Caroline Norbury said: “We urgently need a cultural renewal fund for those in the creative sector who will be hit hardest, including those industries who will be latest to return to work, those businesses unable to operate fully whilst maintaining social distancing and those creative professionals who continue to fall through the gaps of government support measures”.

Citing a report CIF published this week, she added: “Our creative industries have been one of the UK’s biggest success stories but what today’s report makes clear is that, without additional government support, we are heading for a cultural catastrophe”.