The UK government has promised to “continue to work with industry leaders” in the coming days, while music venues and nightclubs are calling for immediate help and support amid the Omicron COVID crisis.
Following the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant and new restrictions imposed upon the UK, a huge drop in turn-outs at shows and events due to either illness or reduced public confidence has left music venues “on the brink of collapse”.
Now is the time when many venues, clubs, pubs and theatres make enough money to see them through the first quarter of the next year. This is also having a huge impact on the staff, crew and freelancers who make night-time entertainment happen, with many already losing work well into 2022.
Further confusion spread when Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the government would not be “closing hospitality or stopping parties”, while urging the public to take caution when attending social and nightlife events.
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham Tweeted this morning (December 16): “You can’t tell people to ‘think carefully’ before going to pubs and restaurants and then fail to provide any support for the workers/businesses affected. The Government needs to bring forward a support package TODAY for hospitality, events, music and other affected sectors.”
To be clear – if support is provided to businesses, it should be on the clear condition that some is passed on to staff facing reduced income over the holiday period or being laid off (ie a furlough).
— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) December 16, 2021
When NME approached The Treasury for a comment today, they provided assurance that talks for support were ongoing while the immediate help requested appeared to not be imminently available.
“This Government has done whatever it takes at every stage to support lives and livelihoods throughout this pandemic – and of course we will continue to do so,” said Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.
“We understand that this is a concerning time for businesses. Myself and my wider team met with business representatives earlier today, listened to their concerns and will continue to work with industry leaders over the coming days.”
He added: “To keep safeguarding our economic recovery and the lives and livelihoods of the British people our priority is now to make sure everyone has the opportunity to ‘Get Boosted Now’.”
The Treasury Ministerial team met with representatives from the likes of UK Hospitality, Prezzo, Nandos and UK live music body LIVE. The Chancellor will be returning to the UK on an earlier flight to resume discussions with business leaders tomorrow.
Read our full statement on how the Government needs to step up and provide a raft of financial support to protect our industry from the new wave of Covid 👇 pic.twitter.com/UcFbeDrpQK
— LIVE (@LiveMusic_UK) December 16, 2021
In just one week, losses have come to over £2million with 86 per cent of grassroots music venues reporting negative impacts and 61 per cent being forced to cancel at least one event due to touring party members testing positive for COVID, functions being cancelled by organisers or poor ticket sales. Overall, attendance at shows held at grassroots venues has dropped by 23 per cent (but up to 40 per cent across live music in general) with over 140,000 ‘no shows’ from ticket holders resulting in a 27 per cent decline in gross income.
“This is the busiest time of the year for grassroots music venues, representing more than 20 per cent of their annual income being raised during the party season,” said Beverley Whitrick, Strategic Director of MVT (Music Venue Trust).
She continued: “Rapid declines in attendance at this time of year represent an exponential threat to the whole sector, and losses of this magnitude cannot be sustained without throwing hundreds of music venues into crisis mode and at risk of permanent closure. A ‘no show’ isn’t just lost ticket income, it’s lost bar take and excess staff costs.”
MVT CEO Mark Davyd said the current crisis threw venues back to “exactly where we were in March 2020″, arguing that once again “confusing government messaging had created a ‘stealth lockdown’ with venues apparently able to open but in reality haemorrhaging money at a rate that will inevitably result in permanent closures unless the government acts quickly to prevent it.”
Among other solutions, the MVT are calling upon Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to “immediately create a ring-fenced stabilisation fund to protect the sector”, including £1.7million from the lifeline £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund which has reportedly yet to be spent or allocated.
“We have been here before,” said Davyd. “This time the government already has all the tools in place that it needs to manage this impact and prevent permanent closures in the grassroots music venue sector.
“The Culture Recovery Fund can be swiftly adapted to mitigate this economic impact, the money is already there and waiting, we just need the Secretary of State to act quickly. The government previously used Business Rate suspension and VAT cuts to support and sustain the sector. We don’t need to spend time considering the situation; the government already knows what can be done and can choose very quickly to do it.”
Nightclubs meanwhile have seen footfall down 30 per cent since last Thursday and likely to reach 50 per cent or more in the days ahead. The UK’s nightlife is likely to be put in a very perilous situation going forward.
“The Christmas period is really important for building up cash reserves so that we’re able to survive Q1 of 2022,” said NTIA leader Michael Kill. “Without this, the result is a threat to the very survival of thousands of businesses and jobs. “This downturn in trade around the narrative from government around socialising and the Omicron variant has obviously created some uncertainty and hit the confidence of the customer.”
In order to help nightlife survive, Kill and the NTIA are calling for a VAT for the sector at 12.5 per cent, additional grants unique to hospitality, and for the government to reinstate furlough for the first quarter of 2022.
Music fans and gig-goers are being encouraged to help their local venues survive by purchasing official merchandise in the days ahead.
This comes at a time when UK music venues are already facing £90million of debt due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
Visit here for information on how to help or donate to the #SaveOurVenues campaign.