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Music Venue Trust shares open letter to Jeremy Hunt as UK venues continue to close

'The Grassroots Music Sector is in the middle of a full-blown crisis,' the MVT warns in a letter to Jeremy Hunt.

By Nick Reilly

(Picture: Pexels)

The Music Venue Trust (MVT) has written an open letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, after revealing the dire threats faced by grassroots music venues in the UK so far this year.

Last week saw the MVT warning that 10 percent of grassroots venues risked closing their doors before the end of 2023, mere days before Jimmy’s in Liverpool and The Brass in Hastings announced their closure over the weekend.

Now, the MVT has asked the chancellor for an extension to the existing 75% Business Rate Relief beyond April 2024 in the Autumn statement in order to assist struggling venues.

MVT CEO Mark Davyd told NME that the UK has gone from 960 grassroots venues in October of last year to 835 that are actually operating. It represents a drop of 125 venues and a 15.7 per cent decline.

When broken down further, the MVT said this represents the loss of 4,000 jobs, 14,250 events, 193,230 performance opportunities, £9 million of income for musicians, and £59 million in lost direct economic activity. 

You can read the MVT’s open letter in full below.

“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.”

In addition, Davyd has also called for greater support from the music industry to support independent venues.

“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.”

Next up for the MVT is Venues Day on October 17 at London’s Fireworks Factory. Enter Shikari will deliver a welcome address, while Steve Lamacq will chair a panel with DCMS Select Committee MPs.