Business News Industry People Labels & Publishers Legal Live Business

New UK Music boss sets out case for increased COVID support from government

By | Published on Friday 9 October 2020

UK Music

The new boss of UK Music, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, has published a lengthy statement calling on government to provide more support for the music community, and especially freelancers working in it, as well as clearer guidance on when live music can resume at various different levels.

Although the UK government has committed £1.57 billion in sector-specific support for the cultural and heritage industries, it remains to be seen to what extent that benefits the music industry. A significant portion of that money is being distributed via Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund, the first grants from which will be confirmed next week.

Even if a decent number of music companies and organisations benefit from that fund, that doesn’t necessarily help the large number of freelancers working in the music industry, many of whom have so far had no financial support from the UK government because of the specific criteria applied to the COVID grants offered to the self-employed.

The music industry has been calling for gaps in freelancer support to be addressed throughout the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, in more recent weeks more wide-ranging concerns have been expressed after it became clear that the next round of general COVID support in the UK would focus on those businesses starting to return to normal as lockdown rules are slowly lifted.

That’s a problem because, for live music and night-time businesses, most COVID regulations are still in place, and – indeed – in some cases have increased again in recent weeks. This means many venues and related businesses are either still in full-on shutdown, or are operating at such limited capacity that the general COVID support schemes are no use.

Some industry reps complain that ministers have also changed their tone of late, increasingly talking about live music and night-time entertainment as being “unviable” businesses, and suggesting people working in music and other creative sectors might want to consider a career change.

Said ministers have generally denied there has been any change in tone, insisting that they are still committed to supporting the cultural industries and then referencing back to that $1.57 billion in sector-specific funding.

But some in the music community feel they have been cut loose by political decision makers, who won’t even explain the rationale behind the seemingly random 10pm curfew that has resulted in many night-time businesses that had found a way to just about operate in a viable way in line with COVID social distancing rules having to abandon those operations.

UK Music – and the various music industry trade bodies it works for – will be hoping that Njoku-Goodwin might get a more substantial response from the powers that be, given he has just spent two and half years as a special advisor to current Health Secretary Matt Hancock and previously worked as a press advisor for the Conservative Party.

His first statement in charge of UK Music is much more reserved than those issued by other music industry groups in recent weeks, possibly because he’s keen to not immediately damage his relationships with central government by talking too tough.

Though he does nevertheless run through the current list of industry grievances while shouting loudly about the economical and social benefits the British music industry provides the UK and all the ways the industry has been adapting since COVID began.

“The music industry has worked hard to help itself”, he writes at one point. “Two Manchester venues – Gorilla and The Deaf Institute – were saved from closure after gig promoters and one of the city’s best-loved singers, The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, stepped into help. Many musicians have embraced some brilliant ideas to cope with COVID-19”.

“Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Disco was a ray of lockdown light with her live concerts from home”, he adds. “English National Opera staged the world’s first drive-in opera in a car park at Alexandra Palace. Our sector has shown incredible ingenuity and creativity to survive, and has arguably done more than any other to adapt to the new reality”.

“The £1.57 billion government support package for the arts has been incredibly welcome”, he then states, before starting his wish list. “But more help is needed for the music industry where 72% are self-employed and aren’t eligible for much of the support on offer because restrictions mean they cannot work. As Arts Minister Caroline Dinenage said this week, ‘our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them'”.

“Critically”, he then adds, “the music industry needs an indicative date that it can work towards as part of the government’s road map for the re-opening of venues. We want to be able to stand on our own two feet, support ourselves and generate income for the economy once again”.

“The UK music industry is a commercially successful sector that was growing before the pandemic and can grow again”, he concludes. “It has the potential to become one of our country’s most important national assets over the next decade, a British success story that delivers at home and abroad. But that future depends on us saving the cultural infrastructure we have today”.

It remains to be seen if the new UK Music boss can get better answers and bolder commitments from his former colleagues in government.