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Prime Minister urged to include live music and nightlife in ‘roadmap’ for lifting lockdown

By | Published on Thursday 18 February 2021


British Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson has been urged to include details about the re-opening of the live music and night-time industries in his latest ‘roadmap’ for the lifting of the current COVID lockdown, publication of which is due next week.

UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin says in a new statement that live music companies need “urgent clarity” in order to plan for the all-important summer festival season. Meanwhile, the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Night-Time Economy has published a report warning that the night-time sector is at imminent risk of “extinction” without rapid action.

“We are fast reaching a critical point for the live music industry”, writes Njoku-Goodwin in a statement. “If festivals and large events are forced to cancel for another year, many will go under and thousands of jobs are at risk of being lost forever”.

He insists that the industry is “not asking to re-open a moment before it is safe to do so”, but says that “if our sector is to survive through this pandemic then we require urgent clarity about the months ahead and some indication of when live music will be able to return”.

In its survey of 20,000 consumers, employers, employees and freelancers involved in the night-time sector, the APPG found that 85% of people working in the night-time economy are considering leaving the industry, and businesses have on average already made 37% of their total workforce redundant.

Meanwhile, only 36% of self-employed nightlife workers have been able to claim financial support from the government’s Self Employment Income Support Scheme.

Chair of the APPG, Jeff Smith MP, says: “Our findings today reveal this industry is on its knees, in desperate need of additional support from the government and a concrete plan for re-opening. Without these interventions, many of these viable businesses will go under, leaving city and town centres resembling ghost towns. If the government is serious about its ‘levelling up’ agenda it must act now to save this sector and avoid untold damage to the social fabric of this country”.

As well as government providing a roadmap for the re-opening of night-time businesses, the APPG says that further financial support will also be required in order to ensure that those businesses can make it through and out of lockdown.

Earlier this week, the Night Time Industries Association said that 88% of nightclub businesses are behind in rent payments by more than six months. That is a particularly big problem because a COVID-related ‘forfeiture moratorium’ that bans evictions is set to expire at the end of March, and that could result in venues that have not reached deals with their landlords losing their premises.

Telling such businesses when they will be allowed to re-open would provide clarity on when they will be able to start bringing in income again in order to pay off those debts. Meanwhile, although many night-time businesses, such as bars and clubs, could begin operating again pretty quickly – live music venues require time to plan and promote shows.

In his statement, Njoku-Goodwin goes on: “A restart date for live music would be hugely welcome. The long lead time involved in planning festivals and other events makes this crucial. At the very least, we need clarity about the conditions under which we would be allowed to get live events underway again”.

With the “huge success” of the vaccine rollout and COVID case rates falling nationwide, now is the time to give some indication on when live music might be able to return. Not least, says Njoku-Goodwin, because of the part music can play in restarting the economy.

“Live music brings massive economic benefits right across the country, often to communities where [it is] crucial to local employment and trade by creating extra business for hotels, taxi firms, restaurants, bars and many more”, he says. “But for us to play that positive role in the post-pandemic recovery, and help provide the economy with the shot in the arm it will desperately need, our industry requires urgent clarity on the likely road ahead”.

Johnson has already indicated that rapid on-site testing for the coronavirus could be used to ensure that clubs, theatres and other venues can re-open even while some COVID restrictions are still in place. Although he has not given any indication on when such testing might be implemented. While government support for using on-site testing to allow the safe opening of venues has been widely welcomed, there have been calls to put this into practice quickly.

In a statement earlier this week, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, Mark Davyd, said: “How rapid testing might work to deliver such events safely needs to be tested, and we look forward to working with the government to undertake that work as soon as possible”.

“Rapid testing and other forms of health passporting, including vaccination certification, represent one of a range of opportunities to deliver events safely, which we have been discussing with the government since July 2020”, he went on.

“A vital element of that work, for our sector, is ensuring that it recognises everyone’s right to privacy in balance with music venues’ need and duty to protect our staff and customers. Any plan for a health passport must contain rigorous safeguards against excluding people unable to be vaccinated or take part in rapid testing”.

“It’s unclear to us why the government supports rapid testing and certification to enter music venues but apparently does not wish to see exactly the same process used to understand and manage risk using the vaccination process”, he added. “This presents the possibility that someone who has been vaccinated might need to also be rapid tested, which seems counter-intuitive. If there is going to be a need to show evidence of being a ‘safe customer’ surely we want to provide people with the most number of opportunities to do that?”

As for schemes that plan to test approaches that would allow people to demonstrate they are ‘safe’, next month ticket security app You Check is to pilot new technology that would provide a “digital health passport” with socially-distanced gigs at London’s 100 Club and Bristol’s Exchange. The aim is to link ticketholder information with proof that they are COVID-free. Other similar schemes are also being tested.

It is hoped that through testing and technology, at least some venues can begin to re-open sooner rather than later. But with no indication so far on when re-opening might be allowed, the live industry is still held in limbo.

Some kind of clarity, even just a “not before” date, would be welcome for the industry. Although recent indications from Downing Street are that lockdown will be eased cautiously and exact dates may not be forthcoming in Monday’s ‘roadmap’ statement.