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UK music industry ramps up call for government support as COVID-19 crisis continues, while IMPALA launches pan-European industry taskforce

By | Published on Friday 20 March 2020


The UK music industry ramped up its call for government support yesterday as the wider music community deals with the escalating COVID-19 crisis. A number of the sector’s trade organisations co-signed a letter urging Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak to instigate specific measures to support the large number of freelancers and self-employed people working in the wider music community.

The need for specific support for freelancers has been a key talking point in the music community ever since measures to restrain and delay the spread of COVID-19 resulted in a rapid shutdown of the live entertainment sector in the UK and many other countries. While some of the economic support measures announced by Sunak earlier this week – such as loans, grants and a 100% business rates cut in some sectors – will help some music companies, there has so far been little tangible support for freelancers and the self-employed.

The letter – signed by UK Music, ISM, Help Musicians, MU, MMF, The Ivors Academy and the Music Producers Guild – states that the spread of “COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on the workforce of the music sector, particularly on those who work on zero-hour contracts or who are self-employed. From live performers, to peripatetic music teachers, composers, managers, engineers and producers, their work has come to an end overnight”.

Moreover, “the current welfare system is just not devised for a situation where the government is strongly advising the music sector to stop work. Much of the workforce is not entitled to any notice or redundancy pay. It is entirely dependent on one-off engagements such as concerts, gigs, theatre shows, recording sessions and peripatetic teaching”.

“If they do not work”, the letter points out, “they do not get paid. The welfare system is just not structured in a way that will support the vast number of those working in the music industry who are immediately out of work overnight”.

The letter then notes how “other countries, such as Italy, Ireland, Norway and Canada, have put in place emergency funds to support the self-employed in these uncertain times”.

Referencing Sunak’s scheme to provide up to £25,000 of support for small businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19, the music groups go on “the self-employed also operate in a similar way to these small businesses”.

“We urgently need the government to put in place a similar grant or emergency fund to assist the self-employed and those on zero-hour contracts with the loss of earnings. Specifically, we advocate a targeted approach to guarantee temporary income, as well as welcoming a wider discussion with government about the merits of a universal basic income of £400 per week”.

Concurrent to the letter to Sunak, the Association Of Independent Music has set up a petition likewise calling for temporary income protection of the self-employed. It states: “There are five million freelancers and self-employed workers in the UK who so far have not been supported by government measures to help the workforce through the COVID-19 crisis and yet they have had their sources of income cease entirely in many cases”.

It goes on: “There must be a dedicated source of direct income support to compensate the self-employed for lost earnings due to COVID-19 preventative measures”. You can sign the petition here.

In addition to the specific issues for freelancers and the self-employed, the music industry’s letter to Sunak also calls for increased measures to support the wider music industry.

“The UK music sector, which contributes £5.2 billion annually to the UK economy, needs urgent government help to avoid large parts of the sector being wiped out”, it states. Suggested measures include an extension of business rates relief to all music companies, VAT holidays and other schemes to help music firms keep paying their staff.

Beyond economic matters, “the music industry also needs urgent clarity over the effective ban on mass events. This includes how long it will last and when it will be reviewed, as well as how the government defines a mass gathering in terms of numbers”.

In relation to that, “steps taken in your announcement on Tuesday concerning insurance were positive, yet not all events will have pandemic cover. We ask the government to ensure they are holding insurance companies accountable and insisting they are following proper protocol by paying out on claims where legally applicable”.

It is thought that the government will use today’s COVID-19 press conference to focus on support for workers, those made redundant and sick pay. It remains to be seen whether the government now introduces general measures to support freelancers, and/or specific measures to support the music community.

As noted in the UK industry’s letter, different governments are taking different approaches in supporting the music and creative industries in their respective countries as the impact of COVID-19 is felt around the world. With that in mind, pan-European indie label trade group IMPALA has announced the launch of a COVID-19 taskforce to share knowledge, guidance and lobbying demands between countries.

IMPALA says that the taskforce will “promote a co-ordinated approach across Europe” and “publish next week a package of recommended measures at national, European and sector level. The plan is being designed to ensure that the music ecosystem is shielded from long term harm and to promote independent music”.

There will be weekly calls to monitor and report on action taken by different governments within Europe as well as by European Union institutions, and to discuss industry-led initiatives. The trade body adds that “national [industry] associations in Europe will be able to work with the taskforce to help devise national strategies with governments and key sector players, as well as take advantage of European initiatives that are available”.

IMPALA Executive Chair Helen Smith says: “We fully support the public health measures that are being put in place. Governments are, however, reacting at different speeds and some are leaving too many decisions to businesses. This is causing unnecessary confusion and hardship”.

Meanwhile IMPALA Chair Francesca Trainini – who is also Vice-President of Italian industry association PMI and who will head up the taskforce – adds: “In times of crisis, smaller actors are the most exposed. Italy has been the first European country affected, but it’s across the continent now. The IMPALA taskforce is working on a call to action on all key levels”.

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