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Music industry says new expansion of UK government’s COVID funding unlikely to help

By | Published on Monday 12 October 2020


The live music industry has hit out at the latest announcements regarding the UK government’s general COVID support schemes. Concerns have been expressed that another technicality put in place by ministers will prevent most venues and live companies from accessing what is meant to be an extension of the financial support available to COVID-hit businesses.

The original financial support schemes for companies and people unable to operate or work because of COVID restrictions are currently winding down. The replacement schemes assume that beneficiaries are starting to get back to normal after the COVID shutdown, but are yet to reach full capacity.

For the main Jobs Support Scheme, employees need to be working at least 33% of their usual hours and companies need to be able to pay them more than half their usual salary to receive a government subsidy. Most live music and night-time businesses are currently operating at a small fraction of their usual capacity, if at all, with many still in full-on shutdown. For those businesses, the new scheme is pretty much useless.

On Friday, Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced an extension of the Job Support Scheme, pre-empting an announcement later today that COVID measures across England are likely to increase.

In terms of those new measures, a simplified three-tier system will be introduced, with each region of the country classified medium, high or very high risk. Medium risk areas will be subject to current social-distancing measures, while high risk areas will have rules more in line with the localised lockdowns currently in place in various towns and cities. In very high risk areas bars and restaurants will be forced to go back into full-on shutdown.

Those companies in very high risk areas forced to close again will get extra support under the expanded Job Support Scheme, with cash grants of up to £3000 depending on the rateable value of their properties, and two thirds of employee salaries covered by the government, providing employers still make national insurance and pension contributions.

However, while some live music and night-time businesses in very high risk areas may be able to benefit from the expanded Job Support Scheme, many other businesses around the country will not.

This is because the new scheme only benefits those venues, bars and restaurants who are specifically told they cannot open. It does not benefit companies that technically can open, but realistically – with the ongoing social-distancing rules and 10pm curfew in force – cannot re-open in a viable way.

And again, there are also concerns that companies and freelancers lower down the supply chain won’t be able to access the required support, despite being directly impacted by the enforced closure of other live music and night-time businesses.

Criticising those limitations, the boss of the UK’s Concert Promoters Association, Phil Bowdery, said on Friday that “the new scheme risks overlooking businesses who can technically open their doors but cannot trade economically due to the restrictions on gatherings in clubs, concert halls and arenas”.

“Revenue in the live music industry will be down a catastrophic 80% in 2019 and over 70% of the employees in the industry are currently utilising the [soon to expire] furlough scheme”, he added. “If the government fails to ensure that all sectors that can’t work can access the new scheme, there will be tens of thousands of additional job losses coming before the end of the year”.

Meanwhile, Steve Heap, General Secretary of the Association Of Festival Organisers said: “The Chancellor’s new scheme appears to have failed the viable live music industry that was the first to close down. What is, effectively, a furlough scheme extension aimed at businesses that have opened and now have to close again, completely misses out the businesses in the live music industry that have been closed for over six months”.

“Festivals, concerts and clubs along with their support crews”, he added, “cannot survive another winter with no income and no government scheme to see them through until next spring”.

Amidst increased criticism of the government from the music, creative, event and night-time sectors regarding the revamped general COVID support schemes, ministers have repeatedly pointed to the £1.57 billion in sector-specific support allocated to the cultural and heritage industries. That, they insist, will protect cultural businesses no longer eligible for general COVID support.

But with so many companies and organisations seeking a share of that £1.57 billion some doubt that it is sufficient to plug the gaps. A significant portion will be distributed via grants issued by Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund, the first recipients of which will be confirmed later today. It remains to be seen to what extent those grants address the music industry’s mounting concerns.