Music Venue Trust issue open letter to Boris Johnson amid fears for music industry hit by coronavirus

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Florrie Guitar Group at Phase One in Liverpool – one of the affected venues

The UK’s leading music venue organisation has issued a letter to the Prime Minister, Getintothis’ Lewis Ridley reports.

The chairman of the Music Venue Trust, Mark Davyd, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson following the Prime Ministers first daily briefing yesterday (March 16).

It urges him to act immediately to legally enforce the temporary closure of Grassroots Music Venues.

This plea follows concerns that the lack of legal restriction on venues means they will not be able to benefit from insurance for the expected large loss of earnings.

The letter, published on behalf of the 661 members of the Music Venues Alliance today (March 17) also requests that Johnson cancels the Festival of Britain 2022 – a one-off cultural event that the government has ring-fenced £120 million to deliver.

It suggests that this money is instead used to reallocate the £120 million to create a Cultural Infrastructure Hardship Relief Fund, delivering funding to grassroots music venues, theatres, arts centres and other social and cultural spaces forced to close by the coronavirus.

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The letter echoes words issued across the industry with Liverpool music tour manager and sound engineer, Michael Prosser, saying: “Johnson‘s fucked it. Live events industry is dead.

“Mandated closure would have allowed insurance claims, would have had to come with support from government for businesses, would have pushed the government to follow other countries and freeze mortgages and finance payments, would have at least put some clarity around the situation.

Just advising people to avoid events leaves everything up in the air, leaves the onus on each individual business to decide whether they’re prepared to face bankruptcy to reduce the chance of spreading the virus, protects the bankers and insurance companies and signs death warrants for who knows how many businesses that will be teetering on the edge. Dithering where real leadership was needed.

This is what a Tory government does. Protects those that are already wealthy, doesn’t give a shit about the people who are building a business from the ground up.

It will bounce back, but it’s going to take a long time, and there’ll be a lot of casualties. Good luck and big love to all my friends and colleagues in live music, event production, and all the interconnected industries and trades that make up what we do. We’re in for a hell of a hard year.”

The Music Venue Trust letter in full:

Dear Mr Johnson

We need you to act immediately to legally enforce the temporary closure of Grassroots Music Venues. If you do not act to do so, your government will be responsible for the permanent closure and loss of hundreds of these vital and vibrant parts of our communities in every corner of the United Kingdom.

We are writing to you on behalf of the 661 members of the Music Venues Alliance, a network of Grassroots Music Venues right across the UK. Everyone reading this letter will know one of these spaces, will have houses full of the music made by the artists who started their careers in them. They are the cornerstone of our identity as the world’s leading musical innovators, vital to our £5.2 billion music industry and essential to the culture and social interaction of our communities.

Following your press statement yesterday that the public should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, this entire network is faced with ruin and permanent closure. In the specific case of these venues, the cause of that closure will not be the Coronavirus. It will be because the government chose to ignore all the advice it received and chose not to act. In your statement, you told the public to enact social distancing, to avoid places where social interaction takes place. Places like Grassroots Music Venues.

Music Venue Trust does not have access to epidemiologists or contagion control specialists. If this is the advice of informed public health officials then we believe it to be the best advice and our network, like everyone else, will want to support it and play their part. Throughout this crisis this is what the members of the Music Venues Alliance have done; follow the public health advice and try to protect our communities.

But yesterday you announced a new and urgent government Public Health policy with no action by the government to deliver it. You created the conditions where these venues are forced to remain open while simultaneously requesting that the public do not go to them. This is not a policy at all. If Public Health demands that these venues should not be used, Public Health demands that the government should act to close them. You cannot ask Grassroots Music Venues and the thousands of people who work in them to pay the cost of a Public Health policy decision that the government needs to take.

Without a direct decision by the government that Grassroots Music Venues should close, these cultural spaces are opened up to unmanageable risks. Those with insurance cannot claim on it. Those with lease agreements based on trade are in breach of their contracts. Rent, mortgage, rates, VAT, Tax, wages will have to be paid and the entire liability falls on the individual venue operator. We work with those venue operators every day; your announcement has provoked a new public health crisis of unmanageable stress and mental health challenges among this community that was completely unnecessary and could have been avoided.

Prior to your statement yesterday, Music Venue Trust supplied a full breakdown to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport detailing the financial cost of mothballing these venues for temporary closure in a planned and constructed action. That action would see them protected and able to reopen when this crisis is over. We laid out the cost for you; £11.4million now to protect the supply chain, people’s jobs, homes, businesses, and £3.7 million per week to maintain them while they are closed. For eight weeks, the total cost would be less than £40 million.

Maybe £40 million sounds like a lot to protect 661 Grassroots Music Venues to some people reading this letter. We aren’t sticking our hand up begging to be a special case, we understand this is a crisis. But we are providing you with logical consequences of acting on public health advice in the short term and how to manage the impact of that decision making in the long term. To help government do that, we provided information to your government on a range of measures you could enact which would reduce and manage this demand on the public purse.

But let’s imagine you didn’t take any of that advice, and it was £40 million. Let’s imagine that in all the other things you are needing to do there is no additional budget at all to protect culture and creative industries. Let’s imagine that you stood up yesterday knowing that this sector could be protected and public health could be protected for £40 million for eight weeks and you didn’t know where it could come from. Let’s imagine that you currently think you have no choice.

We want to propose a simple solution and give you that choice: Cancel the 2022 Festival of Great Britain.

The government has committed £120 million to delivering an event that no one in the public has demanded, and many sectors of the public simply do not want. It has little backing in the cultural and creative industries and is neither urgent nor necessary. The entire Grassroots Music Venue sector can be mothballed for eight weeks and saved permanently for just one third of the money you have already allocated to this single event. With the remaining £80 million we would strongly urge you to create a Cultural Sector Hardship Relief Fund. That fund could take action on grassroots theatres, arts centres, community pubs, any space that is a vital hub of culture and social interaction in our communities.

Music Venue Trust has provided you with all the information you need to take action. We have laid out the challenges, proposed the solutions, and tried to work with government on positive action to manage an immediate public health crisis with long term, structured, achievable solutions. We remain committed to doing that and want you to work with us. The solution is simple, adds nothing to the demands on the public purse and will work:

Cancel the Festival of Britain 2022. Save Britain’s Grassroots Culture.

Sincerely
Mark Davyd
CEO
Music Venue Trust

For support if you’re feeling anxious on any issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic here’s some useful numbers.

  • Samaritans – 116 123 – https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/
  • Music Support – 0800 030 6789 – https://www.musicsupport.org/
  • Help Musicians – 0808 802 8008 – https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/

 

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