“Slipped through the cracks” promoters call for support as MPs pledge support for live music

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Thousands descend on Bedford Park every year for the Bedford Park Concert series weekend.

Bedford music promoters have called for more support for their industry, as they welcome a motion to support live music signed by 22 MPs from across all parliamentary parties.

The All Parliamentary Group for Music has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) calling on the Government to:

  • ensure a continuation of the VAT freeze at 5 per cent for tickets to cultural events beyond September
  • provide additional support to be given to freelancers
  • establish a government-backed insurance scheme to allow live concerts and festivals to return
  • extend existing government support for businesses to match the extension of COVID restrictions, which are currently due to be fully lifted on July 19 (delayed from June 21).

Bedford based independent promoter Mark Harrison, who organises Bedford Park Concerts and many other events across the UK, has welcomed the motion.

“I fully welcome any support the Government can give the music industry. The live music industry has had to endure many months of cancellations and postponements, all with no certainty of the future plans.”

But despite evidence showing the benefit to the UK economy and the Culture Recovery Fund, Mark says lack of guarantees have caused uncertainty

£5.8 billion to the UK economy

UK Music’s latest ‘Music by Numbers’ report, introduced by Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, says the UK music industry contributed £5.8 billion to the UK economy in 2019.

It also shows that employment in the industry was at ‘an all-time high’ in the same year with 197,168 people working in the sector.

While the report says it did not ‘reflect the devastating impact of the Covid-19’ it continues to provide evidence that the music industry brings massive benefits to the UK.

Music tourism alone contributed £4.7 billion in terms of spending to the UK economy in 2019. Whereas export revenue of the music industry totalled £2.9 billion.

Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, Richard Fuller, defended support already given out by the Government.

Speaking to the Bedford Independent, he highlighted the £1.87bn Culture Recovery Fund that he says grassroots music venues across England were the first to benefit from.

This fund included a £3.36 million Emergency Grassroots Music Venues Fund which was shared with 135 venues across England that faced imminent closure.

“I understand that over 300 music venues have now benefitted from over £54 million of investment through the Fund,” he added.

Richard Fuller MP speaking in Parliament
Richard Fuller MP speaking in Parliament

“We’ve slipped through the cracks.”

Despite this evidence of the industry’s worth, and receiving a grant via the Cultural Recovery Fund for another events company he owns, Mark says promoters who organise large scale outdoor events and festivals, and the people they work with, have been left in the cold.

“As a small independent promoter we have had no support throughout the Covid Pandemic and no guarantee,” he says.

“[This] has proved a huge challenge not only for myself but for my excellent team who are made up of freelancers, contractors and subcontractors, many of whom have also received no support or any income. We’ve slipped through the cracks.”

Bedford Park Concerts has not gone without its organisational challenges during lockdown and with ongoing changes to lockdown restrictions either.

Their entire 2020 concert series was cancelled and the delay to full lockdown easing has seen their 2021 event postponed to September, which Mark says has “understandably” caused “huge frustration” for some of their customers.

Read: Bedford Park Concerts moves to September

“We are however determined to make sure the concerts go ahead,” he added.

“In a year when so many shows have been cancelled, we were adamant Bedford deserved to have the best shot of being able to enjoy this spectacular four-day concert series,” added Mark.

Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Lab), who has signed the motion, agrees more needs to be done to protect promoters of outside concerts and festivals.

“Bedford has an incredible musical heritage in venues at grass-roots and established levels, and through prestigious events such as the Bedford Park Concerts continues to be at the leading edge of live music in the UK,” he said.

“I have written to the Culture Secretary in the past about the plight of live music venues in my constituency, and am keen to see meaningful sector-wider support for those businesses and freelancers who continue to be impacted by ongoing restrictions.”

Mr Yasin said he was “very happy” to support an EDM that calls for an extension and expansion of targeted Government assistance.

He applauded the industry for showing “incredible tenacity and resilience to survive” but says it’s time to repay their commitment to Britain’s cultural heritage.

“They deserve the Government’s backing so we can look forward to a summer (and beyond) of culture and music.

“The enjoyment of live music, whether in incredible venues such as Esquires in my constituency or at open-air events like Proms in the Park and other festivals, are vital cultural moments that we must celebrate and protect,” he said.

Mark Harrison
Mark Harrison is behind the popular annual Bedford Park Concerts which celebrates its 25th year in 2021.

While Mr Yasin has signed the EDM, Mr Fuller says he won’t be due to a “longstanding policy not to sign Early Day Motions (EDMs)”.

He believes they have no prospect of changing the law or raising the profile of an issue with a Minister.

“I understand Ministers are keeping the situation under review and are working closely with the Treasury on this issue to determine the appropriate and most effective response for the sector within the public health context,” said Mr Fuller.

Delays to lockdown easing take their toll

Bedford Esquires was one of the venues awarded a grant in October 2020 as part of the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund.

Read: Bedford Esquires and Place Theatre awarded financial lifeline from Cultural Recovery Fund

But since then Gareth says constant changes to lockdown restrictions and delays to ‘everywhere open’ have taken a further toll.

“It’s extremely important that the government acts now in order to help the music industry recover properly,” he said.

“As many people know, it’s been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, the first to close and the last to reopen.”

Gareth has applauded some efforts from the Government. He calls the VAT reduction of 5% on gig tickets “a great initiative”.

But, he adds that due to ongoing restriction changes and trust in going back out again, ticket sales have been incredibly poor for most events.

“It’s not really benefitted anyone as it was intended to and an extension to this is vital,” he says.

Gareth Barber of Esquires
Gareth Barber owner of Esquires and Pad Presents.

Commenting on receiving Cultural Recovery Funding via the Arts Council and DCMS, Gareth says that Esquires has been fortunate, but he points to the knock-on effect lack of support has created.

“There are still plenty of stories of self-employed freelancers like technicians still unable to receive any support,” he added.

“These people have seen their livelihoods completely vanish and if the government don’t step in soon, it will have a huge knock-on effect from small 100 capacity shows right up to stadium tours, with many good people forced away from the industry.”

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