Figures from the music industry and the venue circuit have responded to the government’s new six-month Jobs Support Scheme that is set to replace furlough – claiming that it doesn’t appear to meet the specific needs that have put many workers at risk.
Today (September 24), Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced details of the government’s new Winter Economy Plan for the next six months , including a top up of the wages of workers for the next six months, covering up to two thirds of their pay packet with workers having to work at least a third of their usual hours to qualify for the scheme. He also announced that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be extended, but covering only 20% of the average monthly income for the self-employed, down from the current 70%.
“I acknowledge the steps announced today by the Chancellor and recognise the difficult circumstances, however there is nothing sector specific in his statement to alleviate concern,” Featured Artist Coalition general manager David Martin told NME. “There have been significant gaps in employment support, which mean that many artists have received nothing under the furlough or the self employed schemes. This announcement does nothing to plug these gaps or support those that have this far been shut out.
“Furthermore, for those that rely on live activity, there is still no return in sight as live music remains unable to resume at full capacity. Our music industry remains in a critical condition.”
Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd has since told NME that the new measures do not address the specific challenge to the live music industry, which is “not permitted to trade by government restrictions but has not seen any sector support directly offered in this financial intervention.”
“The new job support programme is built around the premise of returning to work, and employers returning to some level of income arising from that work to support those workers,” Davyd told NME. “The Government has made it clear that it does not believe that the time is right for the live music industry to return to work, and where limited events, under substantial restrictions, are permitted, the income generated is insufficient to meet any of the government targets for employer contributions.”
He continued: “Bluntly, no part of the live music industry is in a position to pay 55 percent of its employees salaries in order to access the government support which is entirely conditional on doing that.”
Davyd also argued that the lack of additional bounce-back loans and the current inability of venues to pay VAT or subside staff puts them in a perilous position and called for more action to tend to “rent, rates, and the thousands of freelancers who have fallen through the existing net of financial support”.
He also said that competition between venues for the £1.57billion Cultural Recovery Fund and other grants was “fierce” with many unable to access it, and that a new “specific sector financial support package for a specific sector which its own virus management policy dictates is unable to trade” would be needed.
He added: “The live music industry faces a crisis which is not of its own making. It is vital that it survives this crisis. The challenge is manageable with sensible, targeted interventions by the government. Music Venue Trust awaits the outcome of the Cultural Recovery Fund to assess if that is the action required.”
Tunbridge Wells Forum manager Chris Pritchard also told NME that the new scheme left a lot to be desired.
“We’ll still getting our bearings around it, because obviously it’s all so vague,” he told NME. “There were questions following his statement where he was referring to the £1.57billion that was going out to the arts sector. Our concern is that that’s being used to secure the bricks and mortar of venues – but what’s being done to cover the freelance engineers, staff and crew that work at the venues? Venues are being told to keep businesses closed, so it’s not out of choice that they’re not working.
“There’s either been a shutdown between what’s happening on our side reaching Rishi or he’s not paying attention to it. I hope there’s a further statement with more to offer and some more detail, but at this point in terms of the employment of staff, we’ve been left in the dark.”
— tunbridgewellsforum (@twforum) September 24, 2020
While welcoming the idea of the job support scheme, Pritchard said that venues and the live music sector were “falling through the cracks”.
“Funding news for venues and art spaces is coming through at the start of October,” he said. “That’s when they’ll get the answer and will bring on more panic than what Rishi has announced just now. That will mean whether or not certain venues shut down for good or completely mothball for a long period of time.
“We’re appreciative of the struggles that the government are going through to figure out a plan for this country. It’s not a statement of politics and there’s no precedent for this. They’re having to work on the run and I don’t envy Rishi’s role, but at the moment our particular sector has been shoved to the back, which is disheartening.”
Meanwhile, Association of Independent Festivals CEO Paul Reed said that “these measures are not even a band aid for a sector that remains severely wounded.”
“Festivals support 85,000 jobs in the UK and our most recent member surveys suggest redundancies of at least 50.5% across the sector, some of which have unfortunately already taken place,” he told NME.
“With the sector still not generating any income at all this year, many employers will simply not be in a position to pay 55% of their employees’ salaries to access the support offered by the Government’s new job support scheme.
“This remains a broad brush approach, and we urgently need targeted support.
Reed added: “We are awaiting the outcome of Coronavirus Recovery Fund applications on 5th October and this will determine if the independent festival sector will in fact receive the support that it urgently requires.”
NME has contacted the DCMS for a response.
Meanwhile, yesterday it was revealed that music venues in England would be able to stay open after the new 10pm curfew imposed by the government as part of the latest coronavirus restrictions, provided that the performance has already started. However, for some this will have a huge negative impact on their income due to clubnights not being possible.
While two thirds of the UK’s grassroots music venues are unable to go ahead with socially-distanced gigs, and hundreds still fighting for funding in a bid to survive COVID closures, the distribution of the £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund will begin on October – with many expected to not receive funding and be forced to close.