The Music Venue Trust has called on the UK government to cancel the Festival Of Britain and use the funding to secure the future of Britain’s grassroots culture amid the coronavirus crisis.
Yesterday saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson take the extraordinary measure of advising citizens to avoid all “non-essential” contact with others as cases of the virus continue to increase worldwide. The Prime Minister has urged people to stay away from pubs, clubs and theatres, but without insisting such spaces close.
This has left venues in a state of limbo and financial uncertainty. While the government did scrap business rates for small venues last week, many will be left in financial ruin and unable to claim insurance or security if they are not formally told to close down. Echoing UK Music’s call for “urgent clarity” on the situation, the Music Venue Trust’s CEO Mark Davyd is also frustrated.
“I was absolutely gobsmacked by the Prime Minister’s announcement,” Davyd told NME. “Essentially, to leave grassroots music venues to pick up the cost of a public health decision is completely irresponsible. It can’t be done. We’re all concerned about public health and asking these spaces to take the hit is complete madness. It doesn’t make any sense.”
He continued: “Expecting these venues to voluntarily shut down is a fundamental misunderstanding of the liabilities that they might have. If they voluntarily close or cancel for contracted events, then who pays for that? It’s completely nonsensical. Many of these bars and venues are only allowed to operate there because a breweries allow them. They can’t just turn around and say to the brewery ‘We are voluntarily closing’ because they’ll get thrown out. The government really needs to get round the table as fast as possible and realise that they haven’t listened. We wrote to them before the announcement and told them what this would cost and what the liabilities were for lifelines to venues, staff, artists and crew for the money that they’d need.
“It was an astonishing press conference, and I don’t think you’ll find anyone that works in hospitality, leisure and retail think the same thing.
CANCEL THE FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN 2022. SAVE BRITAIN'S GRASSROOTS CULTURE SIGN THE PETITION HERE:…
In an open letter and new petition, the Music Venue Trust has called upon the government to immediately announce legal measures to temporarily close venues amid the coronavirus outbreak, cancel their planned Festival of Britain in 2022, and reallocate that money to fund arts spaces through this difficult time.
“What we’ve asked is for them to cancel the Festival Of Britain 2022, for which there is already a £122million culture budget allocated,” Davyd told NME. “We want them to take that money and put it into a cultural infrastructure hardship relief fund. That money is sufficient to support venues during a temporary period of closure.
“Basically, if you’ve got £40 and you need to survive for a week, you don’t splurge it all on some cake and champagne that you might eat in two years’ time. You buy some baked beans and potatoes. Running a culture budget, or any other kind of budget is no different to that. This is really simple stuff for the government.”
Davyd added: “They’ve committed to a £122million Festival Of Britain that no one particularly asked for and there’s no specific reason to do it. Meanwhile, the actual venues that they want to hold this festival in are communities spaces across the country that aren’t even going to be there in two years if they don’t act now to prevent their closure.
“If they do this money then no one is losing out, we aren’t asking for any additional tax money to be spent or for any distraction from public health spending – just move the expenditure within the cultural budget to save these spaces.”
Described as a showcase for “the UK’s unique strengths in creativity and innovation”, the Festival Of Britain will reportedly deliver an “exciting programme” of arts, culture, design and technology in the same year as the Queen’s platinum jubilee and the 100th anniversary of the BBC.
This week has also seen a crowdfunding campaign to help road crews who have lost work as a direct work of.