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Government says alcohol can be served at venues in tier two under new COVID rules

By | Published on Tuesday 1 December 2020


The live music industry has welcomed a change to the new COVID rules that go into force in England tomorrow that will allow venues in tier two regions of the country to sell alcoholic drinks to ticket-buyers. The new rules initially said that alcohol could only be sold alongside a meal.

The current national lockdown across England finishes overnight tonight, with a three tier system replacing it. Most of the country will be in tiers two or three. Venues are not allowed to open at all in tier three areas, but can operate in tier two providing social distancing regulations are adhered to.

However, a separate tier two restriction that alcoholic drinks can only be sold as part of a meal meant that realistically few venues would be able to open in a commercially viable way. The reduced capacity caused by social distancing already makes it challenging for venues to break even, but without bar sales making a profit would become pretty much impossible.

That’s especially true for grassroots venues. When the new rules were unveiled last week, the Music Venue Trust pointed out that the average grassroots music venue makes 65% of its revenues from bar sales. It also argued that buying a ticket to a cultural event should be equated to buying a meal in a bar or restaurant, stressing that attending a socially distanced gig is different to hanging out at the pub, even when alcohol is consumed.

Both MVT and the new cross-sector trade group for live music, LIVE, have lobbied ministers on that point in recent days. And yesterday it was confirmed that the UK government was clarifying the new COVID rules pretty much in line with what the MVT had recommended. So venues will be allowed to sell alcohol at shows.

Welcoming that move, MVT CEO Mark Dayvd said: “Music Venue Trust alongside LIVE has worked hard with the government to make the case that the consumption of culture and the consumption of food should be treated equally. If music be the food of love play on!”

“We are delighted that we have been listened to and that guidance has been issued that makes it clear that ticketed events at grassroots music venues can go ahead in tier two with alcohol on sale”, he added. “It makes a direct difference to the number of shows that can be delivered and is a significant step forward in the campaign to revive live music and re-open every venue safely”.

Phil Bowdery, Chair of the Concert Promoters Association, also welcomed the rule change, stating: “This announcement is hugely important for our industry as stopping the sale of alcohol was going to mean that, even if venues were technically able to open under tier two, they wouldn’t have been able to financially. There’s still a long way to go for the live music industry to recover, and the new situation is extremely challenging for those in tier three, but we’re grateful to all those involved, in the industry and in government, for securing this sensible step”.