Budget announcement

‘Critical barriers to recovery still remain’: Live industry responds to Budget announcement

Leading figures from across the industry have spoken to Audio Media International about this week’s Budget announcement and what it means for the future of live events.

Wednesday’s (March 3) Budget announcement saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledge an additional £300 million to the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund and extend furlough, SEISS (Self-Employed Income Support Scheme) and the five per cent tax cut on ticket sales for the coming months.

While the response to the Budget announcement was largely positive, many in the live events and music industries have called for further clarification on how the new funding will be allocated and what support, if any, will be available to the vast number of freelancers that make up approximately 70 per cent of the live industry workforce.

Mark Davyd, CEO at the Music Venue Trust, told Audio Media International: “Music Venue Trust welcomes the extensions to Furlough, SEISS and the VAT cut on ticket sales. These measures are supportive of the next steps in the campaign to Reopen Every Venue Safely.

“On business rates, we note that the Chancellor has provided a 100 per cent cut for the initial three-month period in which venues will not be trading. This period does not resolve the long running debate on business rates, and we look forward to a full discussion of this outdated and anachronistic taxation in the Business Rates Review in Autumn 2021.”

On the £300 million being poured into the Culture Recovery Fund, Davyd added that greater clarification is required on how the fund will be utilised.

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“The purpose of this funding is unclear; we hope to work with ACE and DCMS to ensure it is effectively distributed and includes sensible and structured capital investment that enables our music venues to become more COVID-secure,” he continued. “We look forward to hearing more detail on the Community Fund, which may prove an important contribution to tackling the issue of ownership of our cultural spaces, and are delighted to see that Social Investment Tax Relief has been continued.

“We note there are planned reviews of both Social Investment and Research and Development Tax Relief. As a sector whose work and purpose sits between supporting local communities and the development of talent and creativity, we strongly encourage the government to identify ways that private investment into the grassroots music sector can be encouraged and promoted during those reviews.”

Duncan Bell of the #WeMakeEvents campaign echoed Davyd’s tone of cautious optimism: “It is good to see the Chancellor recognise some of the challenges the live event supply chain is facing and take steps in the Budget to address these. The extension of furlough and SEISS beyond the end of the roadmap will be vital and we applaud this decision. The additional funding allocated to the Cultural Recovery Fund is also potentially helpful but DCMS and Arts Council England must ensure that the live event supply chain receives a fair proportion of the additional money allocated, which has not been the case in the past.

“But critical barriers to recovery still remain and must be overcome. Most importantly, vast numbers of businesses and individuals in the live event supply chain remain excluded from support schemes and we urge local authorities to address this through the discretionary funds they have been allocated. The continued absence of Government-backed Covid-19 cancellation insurance is also a block to live events getting going again and this must be announced shortly.”

Meanwhile, BPI CEO Geoff Taylor called for sustained government support for the live industry.

“The BPI welcomes the recognition of the importance of the creative industries, including music, in today’s Budget,” said Taylor. “It’s vital that venues, musicians, and those working in the wider industry are supported until reopening is possible, as well as ensuring music can play its part in driving economic growth and providing jobs across the UK.

“As we absorb the detail of today’s announcement, there are some areas still unaddressed, such as an insurance scheme to support the live sector, but a number of welcome steps to support music in the announcements set out today.”

UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin also joined the call for a government-backed insurance scheme, as well as greater support for those not currently eligible for financial support.

“The expanded support for freelancers and the self-employed is a step in the right direction in an industry where three-quarters of the 200,000 workforce are self-employed,” he said. “However, there are still many in our industry who fall in the gaps of the financial support schemes and need help.

“The £300 million boost to the Culture Recovery Fund is welcome and will be a lifeline to many venues and organisations – but the fund should be extended to include freelancers, as is the case in Scotland and Wales.

“We are grateful for the economic support we have received from government, but we don’t want to draw on that support any longer than we have to. The clock is ticking when it comes to staging live music events this summer. Organisers are making decisions in the next few days and weeks about whether they can proceed or will be forced to cancel. The live music industry urgently needs a Government-backed insurance scheme to protect against the risk of losses if a festival or concert is forced to cancel due to COVID.”

Mike Lowe, director of Britannia Row Productions and chair of events industry charity Stagehand, also commented: “The furlough and support for the self-employed continuing to the end of September was great news for live events industry workers and businesses. It is good for Britannia Row. And with my Stagehand hat on, it takes some of the pressure off there too.

“Nevertheless, hundreds of freelancers fall through the gaps in the government support. It is mainly those gaps that we have been going someway to close up in recent months. The budget does provide some improvement for some of these freelancers. Newly self-employed who could provide no proof of self-employment can now claim grants covering February – September 2021  if their 2019/20 self-assessment returns have now been filed. Even so, Stagehand is committed to continuing fundraising for its COVID-19 Crew Relief Fund until at least September. £1.5m has been raised for the Fund to the end of February which has given Stagehand the ability to pay out hundreds of grants.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said as part of his Budget announcement: “Throughout the crisis we have done everything we can to support our world-renowned arts and cultural industries, and it’s only right that we continue to build on our historic package of support for the sector.”

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