The Music Venue Trust yesterday published a six point plan setting out how the government can effectively mitigate the impact of COVID restrictions being extended in England.
It mainly involves continuing existing government support programmes to cover the extended period in which COVID restrictions apply, although also calls for the rapid deployment of already committed funds to support the cultural sector and proposes a system that is already employed in Australia to help venues tackling significant rent debts.
UK prime minister ‘Boris’ Johnson confirmed on Monday that plans to lift remaining COVID restrictions on 21 Jun will not now go ahead because of concerns about the new delta variant of the coronavirus. That means that full capacity live shows that had been due to return on 21 Jun will not now be possible until mid-July, with 19 Jul the new target date for the remaining COVID rules to end.
The move has been criticised by many in the live sector who argue that the government’s own Events Research Programme has demonstrated that well managed full capacity events don’t actually pose any higher risk of COVID infections among audience members than if people go to shopping centres or restaurants. Others have argued that the current rules are inconsistent and unfairly target the entertainment industry.
However, given that another month’s worth of full capacity events in England do now have be cancelled or postponed, the live sector’s priority in the short term is securing extra government support for those affected by this latest extension of COVID regulations.
That includes calling for a postponement of the various changes that are due to occur on 1 Jul in relation to the government’s general COVID support schemes, and yet another call for government-backed cancellation insurance for festivals and large-scale events.
The Music Venue Trust’s six point plan sets out what is required to ensure grassroots venues can survive the extra month of COVID restrictions. That six point plan is as follows…
1. Extend the moratorium on commercial eviction, due to end on 30 Jun, until 30 Sep. No grassroots music venue should face eviction because the government will not allow it to open and trade to be able to pay its rent.
2. Cancel the introduction of business rates from 1 Jul and extend 100% rate relief until 31 Mar 2022. It is frankly bizarre for the government to impose a tax on premises it is simultaneously legislating cannot trade in order to pay that tax.
3. Extend bounce back loans and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme interest and payment free period until 30 Sep. Again, it is an unsustainable position for government to permit banks and other lenders it is has authorised and funded to loan money to grassroots music venues to seek payment of those loans from businesses the government says cannot operate.
4. Explore the Australian model of rent debt settlement, which has brokered a government supported division of rent debt. The best landlords in the UK have already reached arrangements with their tenants to share the impact of COVID. But too many have not, and the burden of rent debt cannot and should not be absorbed solely by tenants. Not pursuing an equal division of the burden of unpaid rent across the sector distorts the marketplace, resulting in venues on the same street being heavily in debt or debt free based on decisions by their landlord.
5. Immediately release the funds held for Culture Recovery Fund 3, £300 million, through a rapid distribution process that addresses the immediate threat of the permanent closure of grassroots music venues. In the early stages of this crisis the government responded quickly through the Emergency Grassroots Music Venue Fund to ensure closures were avoided. It will not work to release this £300 million in October/November/December – the support is needed now. The government should replicate the Apr 2020 distribution of EGMVF to address the £36 million in losses the grassroots sector will face in the next four weeks.
6. Work with local authorities to release undistributed Restart Grant money, currently £1.6 billion, to cultural premises, including grassroots music venues, without delay to address the challenges of the delay to reopening. Guidance can be issued quickly clearly defining businesses left out of step three as being those which government wishes to see receive local authority support.
Commenting on its plan, MVT said: “Specifically notable is that the first three measures required are caused by government decision; it is the government that is ending the moratorium on evictions, it is the government that wants businesses to start paying rates; it is the government that created the terms and conditions of the loans programme”.
“It is not just that the government needs to take positive action to prevent closures through distributing the £300 million fund that it already has, ensuring that the impact of COVID debt is distributed equally between key stakeholders, and ensuring grassroots music venues are prioritised for Restart Grants”, it went on. “It is also the case that the government needs to take its foot off the accelerator of tax, legislation and debt that it imagined would be able to be addressed from 21 Jun and apply a brake to its own demands on the sector it is restricting”.
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