The Night Time Industries Association has called for urgent financial support from the UK government for live entertainment and hospitality businesses as the latest COVID surge gets under-way, while noting that the minister responsible for such support – Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak – has been suspiciously absent from the most recent announcements regarding the coronavirus.
Although UK prime minister ‘Boris’ Johnson has insisted that he isn’t putting the country back into lockdown – despite the rapid spread of the omicron variant of COVID – reps for the live and night-time sectors argue that the government’s current messaging is created a ‘quasi’ or ‘pseudo’ lockdown.
At the government’s latest COVID press conference yesterday, Johnson said that – while entertainment and hospitality businesses would not be forced back into lockdown – people should nevertheless “think carefully” before they go out and about.
Meanwhile, England’s Chief Medical Officer went further, urging people to avoid “mixing with people you don’t have to”. The omicron variant was now spreading at “an absolutely phenomenal pace”, he added. And while data is still being gathered regarding the extent to which omicron results in severe symptoms and hospitalisations, he said of the latest variant of the coronavirus: “All the things that we do know are bad”.
Although not taking the country back into lockdown, Johnson’s government has – of course – introduced a number of new measures to try and restrict the spread of the omicron variant. And as part of that, nightclubs and some venues in England will have to start checking the COVID or vaccination status of customers, a requirement that is already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
That new rule creates a new logistical cost for affected businesses. Though, in a way, the government’s communications are proving much more damaging for the live and night-time sectors, in that – while those businesses are not being told to close – their customers are being told to stay at home. Hence the pseudo-lockdown.
If the government put the country back into full-on lockdown, everyone would expect another round of financial support from the government for affected businesses. However, with ministers insisting there isn’t going to be another lockdown – while concurrently causing a pseudo-lockdown – there has been no mention of additional financial aid. Meanwhile, Sunak hasn’t been involved in the latest COVID briefings and has actually been in California this week.
Following yesterday’s COVID update, NTIA CEO Michael Kill said: “Tonight’s press conference was the latest blow in a week of the government’s public health messaging taking a sledge hammer to what is usually the busiest period of the year for night time economy businesses. With the Prime Minister appearing to lack the political will to impose actual restrictions, and instead seeking to induce a pseudo-lockdown through repeated sombre-sounding announcements, our sector is now facing the worst of both worlds – a drop in footfall and no government support to help us through”.
“It is quite staggering that despite the obvious implications of the government’s rhetoric we haven’t heard a squeak out of HM Treasury”, he added. “The Chancellor needs to come out of hiding and outline how he will support nightlife businesses – who have already carried so much burden in the last two years – through the omicron wave. Surely he can see it will only be worse for the economy in the long run if these businesses are left to try to fend off failure on their own?”
Earlier this week the Music Venue Trust raised similar concerns about the impact of a pseudo-lockdown and also called for further financial support for those businesses seeing a significant downturn as a result of the latest government messaging around COVID.
For grassroots venues, MVT noted, the existing Culture Recovery Fund could be used to provide urgent support, while the Treasury should also reinstate the tax relief that was made available earlier in the pandemic.
MVT boss Mark Davyd said: “The Culture Recovery Fund can be swiftly adapted to mitigate this economic impact, the money is already there and waiting, we just need [Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries] to act quickly. The government [also] previously used business rate suspension and VAT cuts to support and sustain the sector. We don’t need to spend time considering the situation; the government already knows what can be done and can choose very quickly to do it”.
The trade body for the wider live music sector – LIVE – has also issued a statement this morning, echoing MVT and NTIA’s calls for support, while also calling on the government to update its “failing” COVID-related events insurance scheme.
“The current lockdown by stealth is quickly pushing the live music sector to the edge”, says LIVE CEO Greg Parmley. “We are now facing a crippling blow as individual venues scramble to cover the spiralling costs of COVID-related cancellations, which will inevitably result in permanent closures. The government must step up to the plate and provide a raft of financial assistance now, if it is to avoid much-loved live music venues and businesses closing up shop for good”.
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