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“Urgent clarity” needed over UK government’s unofficial shutdown of live entertainment

By | Published on Tuesday 17 March 2020

Live music

Cross-sector lobbying group UK Music has called for “urgent clarity” from the British government after Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson yesterday put the live entertainment sector in an incredibly difficult position, by urging the public to stop attending clubs, bars, venues and theatres but not demanding that those businesses cease operations. Johnson’s policy basically puts the live entertainment sector in unofficial shutdown, which could prevent affected businesses from claiming on insurance policies or seeking other support.

The UK government yesterday ramped up its efforts to restrict and delay the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, mirroring some but not all of the policies employed in many other European countries. The public was told to avoid all unnecessary travel and social contact and to work from home if possible, while those who are in at-risk groups – for whom contracting the virus has potentially very serious and possibly fatal consequences – will be urged to stay at home for up to twelve weeks from this weekend.

However, there is still no official ban on mass gatherings. Such bans have now been instigated in multiple countries, with some governments also greatly reducing the number of people that constitutes a mass gathering. The lack of such a ban in the UK – at the same time as Johnson’s urging that people cease social contact – creates the urgent problem.

As UK Music pointed out in its statement last night: “As part of [his latest] advice, the PM advised people to avoid mass events such as concerts, pubs, clubs and theatres, but he stopped short of an official ban which means insurers could avoid paying out on losses”. This, the lobbying group added, has triggered “huge uncertainty” for the music industry.

Interim UK Music chief Tom Kiehl added: “Public safety remains the top priority for everyone involved in the UK music industry during this unprecedented health emergency. However, the Prime Minister’s latest advice on mass gatherings has resulted in huge uncertainty and confusion over what exactly it will mean for the music industry”.

“We need urgent clarity from government about what exactly these new changes will mean”, he went on. “The government must spell out whether there will be a formal ban, when that might come into effect, which venues and events will be impacted and how long the measures will remain in place”.

Of course it is not just the music industry that is impacted by Johnson’s half-arsed approach to restricting social contact and mass gatherings. Trade groups for the wider creative industries, the hospitality sector and beyond have all echoed Kiehl’s concerns.

The CEO of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England, Caroline Norbury, said last night: “The advice issued by government today is a crippling blow to the UK’s creative industries. As the social distancing measures announced this afternoon are only advisory, rather than an outright ban, we are deeply concerned that creative organisations and cultural spaces will find they are unable to claim compensation for the huge losses they will experience as a result of COVID-19”.

“Public safety remains the top priority for everyone in the creative sector”, she went on. “However, these measures have the potential to devastate the UK’s theatres, museums, cinemas, venues and other cultural spaces reliant on audiences, visitors and participation, as well as the huge array of creators and freelancers who work within these industries. For the sake of our £111.7 billion creative industries, it is vital that government puts in place support to ensure that our world-leading creative sector is able to survive COVID-19”.

The Labour Party’s culture spokesperson, MP Tracy Brabin, backed the calls for more clarity being made by the music and wider creative industries. In a statement on Twitter she said it was unacceptable that Johnson’s government “seem to be prioritising the needs of the insurance industry”. She added that Johnson himself “must urgently clarify theatres, music venues and other cultural institutions affected by his statement can claim insurance”.

Later, after noting Norbury’s statement, Brabin said that she would take this matter up with the government’s culture minister Oliver Dowden today.

Dowden also posted on Twitter last night, insisting that he understood that this was a “deeply worrying time” for the creative industries and the people who work in them. “Ministers and I are ensuring their concerns are heard across Whitehall. There is a lot to do, we recognise the urgency and government will be setting out further support”.

Of course, even if the government does subsequently instigate a proper ban on clubs, bars, venues and theatres – providing the much needed clarity and, hopefully, ensuring that most businesses can claim on their insurance policies – many in the sector will still struggle as a result of the shutdown. As always, smaller businesses and the people who work for them will be the hardest hit, those companies usually operating on tight profit margins and not necessarily having the cash reserves to see them through.

Kiehl’s statement added: “As well as clarity, we need swift action from the government to mitigate the immense damage and disruption this will cause to our music industry that is the envy of the world. Unless music businesses and venues get help fast to get them though this desperately difficult period, the sad reality is the vital businesses and much loved venues will go to the wall”.

“UK Music”, he concluded, “will continue to speak to government and will be working with our members to do all we can to press for help and work towards getting our industry back on its feet as quickly as possible”.

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