The Music Venue Trust has penned open letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, while speaking to NME about how the situation is “as dire as it can be” with more than one grassroots venue closing in the UK every week.
Last week NME reported that the UK stood to lose 10 per cent of its grassroots music venues in 2023, as calls grew louder for the “major leagues” of the music industry and larger venues to do more to pay into the ecosystem and save them.
Now, the MVT has doubled down on that call as well as shared an open letter to demand that the UK Government extends business rate relief for its members after 78 music venues closed their doors over the last 12 months, with many more set to follow.
“Between us finishing our report at Friday at 5pm and coming back at 10am on Monday morning, two more venues closed,” MVT CEO Mark Davyd told NME, paying tribute to Jimmy’s in Liverpool and The Brass in Hastings, which both announced their closure on Saturday (September 23) and Sunday (September 24) respectively.
Davyd continued: “Our report shows that we’ve gone from 960 venues in October of last year to 835 that are actually operating. That’s 125 less and a 15.7 per cent decline. Venues haven’t just closed down, but some of them have also given up putting on live music. The only way that they could afford to survive was to stop putting on live music and start selling pizzas.
“On top of that, there is the current relief of 75 per cent off business rates. That’s due to end on March 31, which means that venues will go back to paying the business rates they were paying in 2018. Without a doubt, that will see the sector collapse because there is no way that they can afford to pay it. That’s £15million in extra costs.”
Davyd said that 125 venues closing would result in the loss of 4,000 jobs, 14,250 events, 193,230 performance opportunities for musicians, £9million of musician income and £59million of economic activity – but the impact would be much more far-reaching across music.
As well as the government extending business rate relief, Davyd also said that the situation needed “a major intervention now” from the wider music industry, especially in the live sphere.
“There’s going to have to be movement from the industry itself too,” he argued. “They can’t just sit around making oceans of money and declaring this to be the greatest year ever for live music, all while venues are closing down every day.”
The Brass will be calling ‘time at the bar’ for the final time at the end of this year.Our building is being sold and…
Davyd went on: “There have been 120 emergency response cases so far this year, and there are 60 live cases today from venues that are at risk of closing down.
“I don’t think people have really understood. When this happens, the impact rolls out everywhere. If there are 20 per cent less venues to play in next year, then that will mean that some tours just can’t happen. These venues are all over the UK, and everything is in complete free-fall. It’s as dire as it can be. It’s not possible to exaggerate it at this point.”
Echoing his call for the “major leagues” of the music industry to invest back into the other end of the spectrum, just as the Premier League does with lower league clubs and new talent in football, Davyd invited the UK’s new arenas to come forward urgently with a plan to invest back into the talent pipeline.
“They need to turn up to Venues Day with the best thing they’ve got,” he said of MVT’s upcoming event. “There’s a national gathering on October 17 that’s either going to be a mournful procession through the disaster or it’s going to be an announcement of who can do what and how quickly they can do it.”
“Grassroots Music Venues need your help. They need you to extend the existing 75 per cent Business Rate Relief beyond April 2024 in the Autumn statement.
“The Grassroots Music Sector is in the middle of a full-blown crisis. 125 venues have shut their doors for live music in the last 12 months, 15.7 per cent of all such spaces in the UK. It represents the loss of 4,000 jobs, 14,250 events, 193,230 performance opportunities, £9million of income for musicians, and £59million in lost direct economic activity.
“15.7 per cent fewer venues is an immediate economic, social, and cultural blow to the 125 local communities that have lost access to live music. These were treasured places that bond our communities together, foster pride in the places we live, drive creativity and create aspiration. For the British music economy, an area of the creative industries in which we are world leaders, this is 15.7 per cent fewer research and development opportunities to support the next wave of British talent. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, Lucy Frazer, recognised the essential R&D role that Grassroots Music Venues play in the DCMS Creative Industries Sector Vision in July 2023. In that report, DCMS invested an additional £5million into Arts Council England’s Supporting Grassroots Live Music fund specifically to support the grassroots sector because of its vital R&D role.
“In January 2020, prior to the pandemic, Rishi Sunak created a special 50 per cent Business Rates relief for Grassroots Music Venues which recognised the importance of these spaces. The Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor, chose to acknowledge that the current Business Rates system is an egregious and inequitable tax on Grassroots Music Venues that needs reform. Knowing that reform would take time, he chose to reduce the Business Rate bills faced by Grassroots Music Venues by 50 per cent. That relief was extended to 100 per cent during the pandemic, then reduced to 75 per cent in the post pandemic economic climate.
“The current 75 per cent Rates Relief protects Grassroots Music Venues from an excessive and poorly reasoned taxation. Removing it would increase costs to the sector by £15million. In 2022, the entire sector returned a profit margin of just 0.2 per cent, £1million in cash terms on a total turnover of £500million.
“If you remove the Rates Relief, you will plunge the entire Grassroots sector into the red. Venues must and will close as a result. Even more local communities will lose their access to live music. Artists will have nowhere to start their careers. More job losses, less economic activity, less Research and Development. The UK risks producing fewer world-beating artists as a direct result of the decision you make on this issue in your Autumn Statement.
“You have said you don’t have the economic conditions to consider tax cuts. Grassroots Music Venues don’t have the economic conditions to allow tax rises.
“Please extend the 75 per cent Business Rates Relief beyond April 2024 in your Autumn Statement.”
Read more here about the struggle of venues and their call for more help and investment from the government and wider industry, as well as Enter Shikari’s example of paying £1 of every ticket sold from their upcoming arena tour back into the grassroots live scene.
Enter Shikari will give the welcome address at this year’s Venues Day held by MVT, with Steve Lamacq hosting a panel with DCMS Select Committee MPs. The event will take place at London’s Fireworks Factory on Tuesday October 17. Tickets are available here.