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Hundreds of grassroots music venues back call for £50 million cash injection from government

By | Published on Tuesday 23 June 2020

Music Venue Trust

Hundreds of independent venue businesses from across the UK have signed an open letter to the government backing the Music Venue Trust’s call for a £50 million cash injection to be made into their sector, arguing that such support is now urgently required to ensure the country’s network of grassroots venues can survive the next three months.

The Music Venue Trust proposed the £50 million in sector-specific government support last week, stating that the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown – and continued uncertainty as to when music venues will be able to re-open – meant that hundreds of venues are now facing permanent closure. And while industry-led fundraising activity that has generated over £2 million to date has bought those venues a little time, more significant financial support is now required.

The new open letter to ministers signed by 560 venues says that the grassroots venue network is the “fundamental foundation” of the UK’s “world-beating £5.2 billion per year music industry”, supporting each new generation of music-makers by providing “training, rehearsal spaces, recording opportunities and career development”.

Without this network of venues, “there would be no Beatles, no Stones, no Led Zeppelin, no Duran Duran, no Sade, no Oasis, no Skunk Anansie, no Adele, no Ed Sheeran, no Dua Lipa”.

“We do not just support the next generation of world-beating artists”, the letter goes on. “Grassroots music venues are where people come together, where they celebrate, where they socialise. Thousands of cultural professionals get their first taste of working in the creative industries in our venues, including many of those who go on to work in areas other than music. Grassroots music venues sit at the very heart of our creative nation”.

The letter then notes the ongoing challenges faced by venues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While high street retail is returning to normal in the UK and an announcement is expected later today on whether social distancing rules will be sufficiently relaxed to allow pubs and restaurants to re-open next month, there remains uncertainty about when live music will return.

The letter says: “Public health advice is clear. Singing is a high-risk activity. Dancing is a high-risk activity. Standing close to other people is a high-risk activity. Being in a confined space for a long period is a high-risk activity. These are the four pillars of the live music experience we offer in our venues. Coming together with friends and communities to dance and sing with your favourite artists in any of the 800 grassroots music venues across the UK is the very core and purpose of why we exist”.

Given the ongoing challenges, the venues say that the MVT’s proposals – which include a VAT holiday for the wider live sector as well as the £50 million fund for grassroots venues – are the only way to ensure that they can survive the next three months. That will buy the extra time now required to help the venues work with government and public health officials in bringing live music back in a safe and commercially viable way.

“These measures are simple, quick, effective and would prevent the closure of hundreds of grassroots music venues”, the letter concludes. “They are the right thing to do. We are a dynamic, innovative, and inventive sector. We do not need permanent government intervention to exist. We are not asking to become a permanently subsidised drain on the public purse. We do not need the government to step in and tell us how to run our venues. We need government to take two simple steps and leave us to work out how to do the rest. We need you to do the right thing”.

Elsewhere, Nile Rodgers, Brian Eno, Neil Tennant and the bosses of music companies like Domino Recordings, Ninja Tune and the Hipgnosis Songs Fund have backed a separate open letter calling on government to ensure that any programmes that seek to help the cultural industries weather the COVID-19 storm are environmentally sustainable.

This letter has been organised by Julie’s Bicycle, the charity that encourages the cultural sector to lead on climate change and sustainability issues.

It states: “Thousands of artists and organisations from across the creative spectrum have been championing climate action for many years … having already shown our commitment to environmental action we want the cultural recovery to be a fair, just and green recovery”.

Although the UK government is yet to provide sector-specific financial support to the creative and cultural industries which have been majorly impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown, it has formed a “cultural renewal taskforce”.

That committee is advising government on the specific needs of the various creative industries as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, including the music industry, even though there is no representation from the music community on the government’s team of advisors. That taskforce reports into culture minister Oliver Dowden.

Addressing Dowden, the Julie’s Bicycle letter says: “We urge government to commit to a rapid, just and green cultural recovery combining targeted public investment, clear policy signals, and implementation of Climate Change Act obligations extended to the cultural renewal strategy. We urge that action to protect nature and biodiversity is given the attention it so urgently deserves”.

It remains to be seen how the government responds to both letters. Will ministers employ pretty much the same strategy that has been used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic whenever the creative industries have raised their concerns? That being: “we want to support you in every way possible that we can other than by actually supporting you”. We’ll see.