Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd has written an open letter in response to measures affecting the night time economy recently announced by the government.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week unveiled a series of measures aimed at seeing businesses through the winter, including a Job Support Scheme to top up the wages of employees working at least a third of their normal hours, with employers paying the remaining 55%. The initiative will replace the furlough scheme, which comes to an end in October.
But Davyd and a number of other music trade bodies have said the winter support package fails to address the needs of the live music sector. In the open letter, he begins by crediting the combined effort by the sector itself, national and local government, the music industry, local communities and Music Venue Trust with the "remarkable turnaround" of making 2019 the first time since 2000 that the year finished with more trading grassroots music venues than it started.
However, Davyd continues: "Since March, the same government that worked so hard to make grassroots music venues viable again 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. These controls, demanded by the government to address perceived risk from coronavirus, 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 grassroots music venues, after all that effort and work by multiple agencies across several years, as inherently unviable businesses is frankly absurd
Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust
In the letter, Davyd also responds to the Chancellor's claim that it was "fundamentally wrong" to keep people in unviable jobs.
"To describe grassroots music venues, after all that effort and work by multiple agencies across several years, as inherently unviable businesses and the people who work in them as occupying inherently unviable jobs is, frankly, absurd," says Davyd. "The government has sought to manage the infection rate by singling out the night time economy for special and specific restrictions as it believes that this section of our economy, community and society presents a source of special and specific potential infection risks.
"The government's own published scientific data does not seem to support or justify this approach as an effective mechanism for managing the risk of infection. 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. Assuming that the government has such data, making the connection between late night and/or cultural activity and infection, that it has chosen not to publish or to provide privately to the sector, the same conclusion about the long and short term viability of grassroots music venues would remain."
The UK Council of Music Makers (CMM) - comprising the FAC, The Ivors Academy, MMF, MPG and the MU – has already called on the government to urgently implement a sector-specific funding package to support individual workers of the music industry.
Davyd concludes: "Grassroots music venues, and every other part of the night time economy, have become temporarily unviable because government restrictions and limitations have made them so. The government cannot simply shrug its shoulders at 900 grassroots music venues being permanently lost, over 200,000 jobs being permanently lost, and over £5 billion in current and future economic activity that the country risks permanently losing because of the temporary decisions it is making.
"The government has a duty to temporarily protect the venues it is temporarily restricting. Music Venue Trust remains committed to working and acting together with the government to ensure that the long term viability of grassroots music venues, achieved by immense hard work in the last few years, returns after this temporary crisis."