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Nearly 170,000 UK live sector jobs will be lost by the end of the year, industry warns in new report

By | Published on Wednesday 21 October 2020


A new report published today estimates that 26,000 permanent jobs in the UK live music industry will be lost by the end of the year as the COVID-19 shutdown extends – about half of the sector’s full-time workforce. Meanwhile, a further 144,000 ‘full-time equivalent’ jobs – including both freelancers who work full time in live and other music industry practitioners for whom live is part of their activity and therefore revenue – will also have been wiped out.

While grants from the Culture Recovery Fund have probably saved about 10,000 jobs, the live industry says that it needs much more government support to ensure that its infrastructure and talent base isn’t almost entirely obliterated by the time the shutdown is over.

The bold new stats have been compiled by consultants Chris Carey and Tim Chambers for a report commissioned by LIVE, a new trade organisation for the British live industry that has spun out of what was previously the UK Live Music Group committee within UK Music. Like UK Music, LIVE is a trade group of trade groups, bringing together organisations that represent concert promoters, festivals, venues, agents, managers and live event production practitioners.

The report is published as measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 increase in many areas of the UK, just as the original COVID support schemes for both employees and freelancers come to an end. The replacement schemes are problematic for the live industry.

The new schemes assume one of two things: that a company has returned to at least one-third capacity since the original COVID shutdown or that newly increased COVID measures mean a company is forced by law to shut down entirely again. However, for most live companies, technically they are allowed to operate, but social distancing rules mean those operations would be nowhere near a third of usual capacity.

While the £1.57 billion in sector-specific funding provided by the UK government to the cultural and heritage sectors – a significant portion of which was distributed via Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund – has helped to an extent, it won’t stop nearly 170,000 jobs in the live sector from disappearing. Many companies were ineligible for or unsuccessful in their bids to the CRF, and freelancers were not able to directly apply.

In a bid to mitigate the hugely negative impact on the live sector that is outlined in this report, the industry wants the UK government to offer the extended version of its new Job Support Scheme to all live music businesses, even when technically they are allowed to operate under law.

Other stats in the new report include that 76% of live music employees were utilising the government’s furlough scheme at the end of August – ie one of the key schemes now coming to an end. Plus, while on average UK industries have seen 2020 revenues fall 20% as a result of the pandemic, live music industry revenues are down 81%, with almost zero income since March.

Commenting on the findings of the report, co-author Chris Carey said this morning: “From the artists on stage to the venues, and the many specialist roles and occupations that make live music happen, this research shows clearly that the entire ecosystem is being decimated”.

“The Culture Recovery Fund is a help, especially to grassroots music venues”, he added. “However, larger companies are going to be hit harder and without ongoing government investment in protecting this industry, the UK will lose its place as a cultural leader in live entertainment. Moreover, the skills we lose in this time will significantly hinder the sector’s ability to recover and return to driving economic growth and supplying UK jobs”.

Formally calling on the government for more support, Phil Bowdery of the Concert Promoters Association – one of LIVE’s member organisations – said: “We were one of the first sectors to close and we will be one of the last to re-open. We are currently caught in a catch 22 where we are unable to operate due to government restrictions but are excluded from the Extended Job Support Scheme as the furlough comes to an end. If businesses can’t access that support soon then the majority of our specialist, highly-trained workforce will be gone”.

Meanwhile, putting the spotlight on freelancers, Andy Lenthall of the Production Services Association added: “Those who have often found themselves overlooked and left behind throughout the last six months are the freelancers and self-employed – the people up and down the country that we rely on to bring us the live experiences we love. Things are becoming increasingly desperate for a great many people in the industry and government needs to recognise that these crucial individuals need support”.