The music industry has welcomed a report from the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee on the impact of COVID-19 on the wider cultural sector. Among the recommendations made by the committee are an extension of current COVID support and VAT relief schemes for the cultural industries, and moves to ensure that freelancers and small businesses benefit from the recently announced £1.57 billion of sector-specific financial support.
The full report actually considers the impact of COVID-19 on the sport, culture and tourism sectors. Within the culture section, it recaps various facts and stats that we are already familiar with regarding the COVID-caused challenges faced by music-makers, venues, festivals, gig promoters and everyone else involved in the live music business.
It also notes that issues with the government’s general COVID schemes to support those unable to work because of lockdown means many freelancers in the live industry have so far received no support at all. Even those people and companies who have benefited from those schemes will lose that support in October, even though the live industry is unlikely to be properly back up and running by then.
One fear is that, with the government giving the go ahead for indoor events to restart next month, ministers will pretend everything has just gone back to normal. When, in fact, social distancing rules still in place, the risk on new localised lockdowns going into effect with short notice, and concerns among music fans about a possible second spike of the virus will likely make many shows unviable, in the short term at least.
With that in mind, the select committee’s report states: “From October 2020 at the latest, the government should introduce flexible, sector-specific versions of the [current COVID support schemes] guaranteed for the creative industries until their work and income returns to sustainable levels”.
Then noting the aforementioned issues with those current schemes, it adds: “Support for the self-employed, in particular, should be urgently reviewed and amended so that it covers people who have been excluded to date”.
While acknowledging and welcoming the £1.57 billion of sector-specific support already announced by the government, the committee says: “Whether it is enough to safeguard the cultural sector will ultimately depend on how long institutions remain closed or subject to social distancing, and we are concerned that freelancers and small companies will continue to fall through the gaps of government support”.
The government’s other big recent gesture of support for the cultural industries was a reduction of the VAT rate on tickets, which is currently set to run until January. But that should be extended too, the committee says. “We recommend the cut in VAT on ticket sales for theatre and live music be extended beyond January 2021, for the next three years”, it writes, also suggesting ministers consider a further tax relief scheme for the music industry, similar to those already available for theatres and orchestras.
On top of all those proposals, the committee also notes how the shutdown of live music has put the spotlight back on how streaming income is shared out between different stakeholders in the music industry. The Musicians’ Union and Ivors Academy have called for the government to intervene in the good old digital pie debate. And the committee recommends that the government’s Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport “should investigate how the market for recorded music is operating in the era of streaming to ensure that music creators are receiving a fair reward”.
Although the select committee has no power to force its recommendations on the government, music industry reps have nevertheless welcomed the report and the recommendations contained within it.
The current boss of UK Music, Tom Kiehl, says: “This is a watershed report in the fight for survival for many companies and individuals working across the music industry following the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the whole sector. [The committee] are to be congratulated on the bold approach they have taken and for listening to evidence from UK Music that have informed many of the report’s welcome recommendations”.
“Eligibility for cultural funding needs to be as broad as possible so that no part of the music industry gets left behind”, he adds. “Gaps in existing support schemes need to be plugged and [those schemes should also be] extended so that those that simply cannot work can continue to make ends meet. Music also needs crucial tax reliefs and further financial incentives to stimulate our eventual revival and recovery”.
“UK Music has engaged with the DCMS throughout the pandemic and is very grateful for the assistance of ministers and officials”, he goes on. “The music industry was one of the first sectors of the economy to get hit by social distancing measures and could be one of the last to recover. The work is not done. The government must continue to act”.
Meanwhile Paul Reed, CEO of the Association Of Independent Festivals, says: “Having made a detailed submission to the DCMS Committee, we welcome the findings of this report, which specifically acknowledges that the UK’s thriving festival and live events sector has been particularly badly hit by this crisis”.
“Our sector has lost an entire year of income”, he adds. “This is an existential threat and we have been banging the drum for festival specific support since the outset. We’re particularly pleased to see that our recommendations for long term relief, including extensions of existing employment support schemes and an extended VAT cut, have been taken on board. We look forward to working further with DCMS to ensure that the festival sector, which generates £1.75 billion for the UK economy and supports 85,000 jobs, can survive and continue to thrive into 2021 and beyond”.
At the Music Venue Trust, its CEO Mark Davyd says: “We warmly welcome this timely report that provides a clear overview of the extent of the challenges faced by the live music sector and grassroots music venues. We are pleased that the urgency of short term measures to prevent the catastrophic loss of vital infrastructure is recognised, and that this is matched with long term calls for innovative incentives to restore the sector to health and to future proof it against threats in the future”.
“We hope the government will respond quickly”, he goes on, “with both the sector-specific support package required to pull grassroots music venues away from the cliff edge and the longer-term structured support such as the tax incentives required to support community ownership of our cultural infrastructure”.
And finally, Phil Bowdery, Chairman of the Concert Promoters Association, adds: “This report highlights the unprecedented impacts that COVID-19 has had on our iconic cultural sectors and demonstrates that a sector-specific deal to support the industry, conditional timelines for reopening without social distancing and long-term structural support are going to be vital in ensuring the survival of the live music in the UK. We look forward to continuing to work with the government to ensure that the entire sector can be supported through this time”.