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The UK government is leaving our independent music scene for dead

Sam Campbell assesses the government's failure to protect independent music culture during the coronavirus epidemic

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Image Credit: Music Venue Trust

At the time of writing, the Tory government is ‘advising’ all citizens of the UK to ‘avoid’ attending cultural venues such as pubs, clubs, theatres and music venues. Moreover, the government position fudges on the details of what is actually to be done by consumers and business-owners in stopping the ongoing epidemic in the UK running rampant. ‘Advice’ does not amount to much; it does not entail a nationwide shutdown in which many businesses, especially those in the leisure industry, closing down until after the peak of the epidemic has passed. This means that these businesses are without the potential protection of insurance claims, but merely a series of tax cuts and emergency loans – which do not account for the incoming tidal wave of recession that will inevitably hurt the revenues of these businesses in the long-term. Across the country, venues which have been crying out for protection at the best of times face potential closure if the government does not step in and make more substantial interventions to save them. Meanwhile artists who rely on such venues to survive hand-to-mouth, or buskers who get by from playing on high-streets which are becoming increasingly desolate, have no safety-cushion – the same is true for other creative industries, and the million people across the nation who work on zero-hours contracts. Venue-owners and those inside the industry are rightly enraged at the lack of interest or assistance from the government.

Essentially, the government – with its ideological dedication to the ‘free market’ – is not willing to step in to protect industries which, despite their value to millions in our society, require financial stimulation and assistance in order to stay alive. The Tory party – led by a prime-minister famous for exclaiming ‘Fuck business!’ – has no interest in helping small business owners genuine, grassroots culture. For heaven’s sake, this is the party that recently appointed a Law graduate as its minister for culture – an office previously held by investment banker Sajid Javid, as well as the current Health Minister, Matt ‘50,000 More Nurses’ Hancock. It is safe to say that this is an area of government the Tory party does not take remotely seriously.

In York, the close-knit music scene relies on convivial, friendly and supportive spaces such as the Crescent Community Venue, which is likely to suffer greatly from the impact of the epidemic. The Crescent spoke to Nouse about the venue’s vulnerability as well as the situation nationally. ‘As you can imagine,’ they said, ‘it’s a desperate time for us and anyone involved in our industry. Most venues will be able to survive for about two weeks at this rate.’ They also described the decision to allow operators to remain open for St. Patrick’s Day ‘a dangerous gamble that will probably lead to more deaths. Furthermore, they called for measures that could be put in place by the government in order to assist operators, echoing the Music Venue Trust: ‘we are calling for an industry bailout, mortgage holidays, rents and rate holidays as well relief.’ They pointed out that countries such as Germany, New Zealand and France have already announced ‘massive stimulus packages,’ unlike the UK. Without these measures, they said, ‘the whole industry will crumble.’ Shockingly, the venue also informed Nouse that its insurers had insisted no coverage would be in place even in the case of a national shutdown, making state intervention all the more urgent. The Crescent is currently running a JustGiving campaign to help it stay afloat over the coming weeks, which you can donate to here.

Others in the industry have also expressed deep concern and anger over the state precariousness that is being made worse by the government’s lack of meaningful action. One person proclaimed that ‘Boris Johnson has just signed the death warrant for the entire music and pub industry by not ordering them to shut down,’ also suggesting that those who do not close of their own volition will become the subject of ‘a witch hunt’ and ‘made a scapegoat’ for the fact that such spaces are likely to facilitate the spread of disease. The Music Venue Trust has made similar calls to those above, as well as writing an open letter to Boris Johnson asking for the £120 million ringfenced for the Festival of Britain 2022 (a.k.a. Festival of Brexit) to be redirected in the creation of a Cultural Infrastructure Hardship Relief Fund. This would help to maintain a robust and enduring foundation for the independent music industry. But the government’s motivation in providing this remains to be seen, for the time being.

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