ISM responds to Prime Minister’s roadmap for COVID restrictions in England
Today (22 February), the Government revealed a four-stage plan to lifting the current restrictions in England. This announcement was relevant to three of our key campaigning areas – music education, support for our sector and the return of live performance. We will publish new advice on our COVID-19 advice hub as information that is specific to music professionals becomes available. Please look out on our social channels for updates.
During his speech, the Prime Minister said “for the duration of the pandemic, the Government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods”. So, while the first priority remains public health, we welcome the publication of a roadmap which gives musicians clarity about how they will be permitted to teach and perform over the coming months. But until restrictions are lifted in the summer, and our sector can begin to recover, we continue to rely on Government support to prevent an exodus of world-leading talent. At each stage of the new model announced today, the Government must invest in the UK’s creative industries including music. It is essential cultural recovery funding offers targeted support for individuals as well as arts organisations.
What the announcement means
The ISM is pleased to see the return of schools next month as part of the decision to move from a regional system to a simpler model of national guidance across England. Even though the Department for Education recognised that performing arts subjects help build confidence and support pupil’s wellbeing in their newly published guidance, our recent research captured in “The Heart of the School is Missing” revealed a significant reduction in music education across the country.
The Education Secretary should now actively encourage teaching music as part of a broad and balanced ‘recovery curriculum’, while providing reassurance that it is safe to do so. In the long-term, the Government must provide sufficient funding to ensure that the disruption of the pandemic does not increase the ongoing participation and attainment gap in music, between poorer pupils and their peers.
Support for our sector
Our sector makes a major contribution to the UK’s wealth, health and global cultural influence so any roadmap for the return of social activities must include live performance. Although a potential return to live performance in May is positive, the reality is many musicians will have been unable to earn an income for over a year by then.
That is why next week’s Budget must include a package of support that last until musicians can safely resume work. The Chancellor should maintain the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme at the same 80% level until the end of this crisis. We also need either an expansion of the eligibility criteria or the creation of a suitable alternative for the three million of freelancers who have been excluded. In addition, the decision to reduce VAT on tickets to 5% would have been a positive intervention had venues been open, so we suggest it should be extended for the next three years alongside a range of new tax relief measures, in line with the regulatory elements of the existing Theatre Tax Relief.
The return of live performance
The Prime Minister has said the “end is in sight” as he offered a tantalising glimpse of a summer with audiences enjoying live performances once again. But venues take time to reopen and shows cannot simply return overnight. The frequent changes in restrictions last year cost venues money because they invested in resuming live music in front of audiences only to have to close again. This time, we must have a consistent plan so that the music sector has confidence that performances will not be curtailed. We also need a government-backed reinsurance scheme, similar to the one created for the TV and film sector, in the absence of suitable products being offered by the commercial market.
Campaigning for you
Today’s announcement may have focussed on the return of sport, but music contributed £5.8 billion to the UK economy in 2019 and should not be underestimated. With over 40% of musicians not having received any financial support, and many more considering leaving the profession, it is imperative that the Government protects our world-leading arts sector. That is why the ISM continues to campaign to ensure that musicians will not have to turn their backs on their careers and talents. We will use every opportunity to lobby so that all pupils can enjoy the rich benefits of a music education and so that audiences can safely enjoy live performance again soon.
I will keep you informed as these efforts continue throughout the rest of the year as we move through this new roadmap.
Chief Executive, ISM