Music and nightlife bosses hit back after government says it “doesn’t make sense” to keep supporting sector

“The lack of financial support, the industry has been put in this position because of them and no-one else"

Leading UK nightlife figures have criticised the government, after Health and Care Minister Helen Whately claimed that it “doesn’t make sense” to keep supporting jobs in the beleaguered sector.

Whately made the controversial comments on Sky News this morning, when she was quizzed on fears that the night-time industry will fall through the cracks of the government’s Winter Economy Plan.

A new job support scheme unveiled last week will see the government topping up the pay packets of employed workers for next six months, but it is feared that nighttime workers will be left in the cold – with many still in unemployment after nightclubs and music venues were forced to shut their doors as a result of the pandemic. Bosses from the live music sector criticised the scheme for ignoring their needs, with the industry largely unable to reopen and claiming they perilously “face a crisis which is not of its own making”.

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When quizzed on the threat this morning, Whately said: “The chancellor has adjusted and moved to the next phase. We know that COVID is going to be with us for months ahead, but it doesn’t make sense to continue supporting jobs where there simply isn’t work at the moment.”

Responding to her comments, The Night Time Industries Association’s CEO, Michael Kill, told NME that they were “extremely short-sighted”.

“My first feeling is just anger at the way the government has isolated the industry and almost created an untenable financial environment,” he said. “The lack of financial support, the industry has been put in this position because of them and no-one else. It’s very clear that the Chancellor’s statement on Thursday was based around businesses that were trading.

“It has no support for businesses that are closed under restriction from government and the gall for the health minister to say that we don’t see the point in supporting them is just ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous.”

Kill continued: “It’s unfair and I cannot believe that a government would openly restrict a sector to the point that it’s financially untenable and then reinforce that by saying that they’re not interested in supporting it because we’ve created an environment that doesn’t work for them.”

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He added: “Someone needs to go back and have a think. The backlash from our sector will be far and wide if there is not greater financial support. Many people have personal financial commitments to this sector and they’ve got to start thinking about the human element here. All pushed to the wayside because the government could not get key elements of handling this pandemic correct.”

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd also said that the government risked undoing decades of hard work to secure the future of independent venues.

He told NME: “2019 was the first time since 2000 that the year finished with more trading grassroots music venues than it started. This was a remarkable turn around, a fantastic concerted effort to make a sector that had become economically unsustainable viable once again.”

“Everyone had to work together and act together to protect, secure and improve grassroots music venues; this government took a lead role in much of that work.”

Davyd went on: “Since March, that same government has introduced a series of restrictions and limitations on the ability of the whole night time economy, including grassroots music venues, to be economically viable. The controls demanded have slashed capacities by 75%, cut trading hours by 50 to 75%, limited performances and performers, and introduced significant additional costs on venues to present live events under severely limited conditions.

“All of these measures, the government states, are temporary conditions required by the government to temporarily control the risk of infection.  To describe, after all that effort and work by multiple agencies across several years, grassroots music venues as inherently unviable businesses and the people who work in them as occupying inherently unviable jobs is, frankly, absurd.”

A reveller at Swedish venue Plan B during a socially distanced gig. Credit: Gianluca La Bruna

Davyd questioned the newly introduced 10PM curfew on pubs, nightlife and restaurants and urged the government to prove the science behind their decision.

“We strongly urge the government to now publish the data linking the spread of infection to the consumption of alcohol and enjoyment of culture in licensed premises after 10pm, not least on the basis of addressing public confidence in the measures being taken,” he said.

NME has contacted various government spokespeople for a response.

It comes as two thirds of the UK’s grassroots music venues are still unable to go ahead with socially-distanced gigs, with hundreds still fighting for funding in a bid to survive COVID closures.

The distribution of the £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund will also begin in October – but many spaces are expected to not receive funding and be forced to close for good.

You can donate to the Save Our Venues campaign here.

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