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UK music industry welcomes further financial support for the COVID-hit creative industries, but says individual creators need to benefit

By | Published on Wednesday 3 March 2021

Houses Of Parliament

UK Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak is expected to announce today that he is extending a number of the COVID support schemes currently in place across the UK as lockdown continues to extend, which should benefit those strands of the music industry still pretty much in shutdown.

Of course, it is now hoped that light is at the end of the tunnel regarding the pandemic, with Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson’s road map for relaxing COVID restrictions in England aiming to have things pretty much back to normal by late June.

However, many of the pre-existing COVID support schemes – such as the furlough scheme for employees and VAT cuts for the hospitably and entertainment sectors – are currently due to end next month. And specific grants provided to cultural organisations by the government were designed to help them survive until the end of March.

With that in mind, reps for the music industry – and the wider live entertainment and night-time sectors – have been calling on Sunak to ensure those various support initiatives are extended. In the last day or so ministers have been teasing such extensions ahead of Sunak’s big budget speech later today.

The furlough scheme – whereby the government subsidises the salaries of employees unable to work because of COVID restrictions – is set to be extended into September.

Welcoming that development, Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association said last night: “Extension of furlough until September beyond the proposed re-opening date for night time economy is a positive move by government. This will go a long way to safeguarding sector jobs until we are able to re-open, allowing a level of flexibility through the phases of market re-engagement”.

Though more will need to be done to ensure night-time business can survive this final phase of lockdown, he added. “We hope that the initial announcements from government on the budget will set the tone for further positive news in support of businesses, which without support will be unable to deliver the furlough scheme which has protected millions of jobs during the pandemic”.

Elsewhere, Culture Minister Oliver Dowden has confirmed that another £400 million of sector-specific support will be made available to the cultural and heritage industries, a significant portion of which will be distributed via Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund. Dowden added on Twitter: “It’s a relief we can look ahead now so this funding is not just about survival, but planning and preparing for [the] reopening of theatres, galleries and gigs”.

That extra funding to help creative businesses survive the final few months of shutdown will be welcomed by the music industry, although – of course – issues were raised with the way previous Culture Recovery Fund monies were distributed.

While plenty of venues and music organisations that would not usually seek or get Arts Council funding did benefit from the programme, in England individual creators, performers and practitioners were generally not eligible. Some of those people may have already benefited from the general COVID support schemes for the self-employed, but there were big gaps in that support programme too, meaning some individuals have so far received no support at all.

That’s a problem that Sunak should seek to address with this new round of monies being made available to the creative sectors, reckons the Musicians’ Union.

It said yesterday that the new funds were good news, “but this new round of money must include funding for freelancers. Unlike in Scotland and Wales, individual freelancers in England have not been able to apply for CRF money, which has left them at a real disadvantage”. 38% of MU members, it added, have not qualified for the general COVID support schemes either, making it even more vital they can access this culture-specific money.

MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge added: “We urge the Chancellor to invest in musicians in [his] budget announcement by making it clear that individual freelancers in England will finally be allowed to apply for some of this latest round of Culture Recovery Fund money. Whilst we are obviously pleased that venues and theatres will be receiving additional support over the next few difficult months, we find it extremely unfair that a big proportion of the workforce that make these institutions what they are continue to be excluded”.

“With 38% of musicians still ineligible for other financial support”, he went on, “the Chancellor must act to protect the future of music in this country. Allowing freelancers to apply for project funding from the CRF would be a good start, but we also urge him to look again at the huge numbers that are excluded from the [general freelancer support] scheme and make some adjustments”.

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