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ISM calls for further support for music industry as Prime Minister announces four week delay to easing lockdown

Today (14 June) the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the delay of step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown for England. This means the original easing of lockdown on the 21 June has now been pushed back by four weeks until 19 July.

The following will now remain in place until 19 July:

  • Social distancing rules
  • Legal limits on social gatherings, indoors and outdoors
  • Nightclubs will remain closed
  • Legal limits for large events

A four week delay to lockdown easing could result in devastating consequences for the live music sector. Research published by LIVE has revealed that a four-week delay to the government’s roadmap would cost the live music sector over £500million, with the summer festival season at risk of total collapse, and an estimated 5,000 live events at risk of cancellation. Curtailing these events will have serious consequences for freelance musicians and creatives involved, many of whom have been excluded from financial support from the Government throughout the pandemic.

Responding to the Prime Minister's announcement, ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts said:

'Whilst public health concerns must be a priority, the announcement delaying the lifting of lockdown restrictions is another crippling blow to the music industry. Venues will experience financial loss as it means a further four weeks of reduced capacity audiences and many live events will be cancelled. We urgently need a Government-backed insurance scheme to provide certainty for venues to reopen and improve the viability of live performance events.'

'With over 40% of musicians not having received any financial support, and many more considering leaving the profession, it is imperative that the Government implements measures to protect as many jobs and livelihoods within our £5.8bn music sector.'

What does a delay to Step 4 mean?

Weddings

The 30-guest limit on wedding ceremonies and receptions is set to be removed as of 21 June and replaced with a cap based on the venue’s capacity. That means the number of guests will depend on whether the venue can accommodate them and still observe social distancing. Table service only will be allowed at weddings and other life events, and dancing and singing will also still be banned. The new rules for weddings already apply to funerals, but will now also include wakes. Our advice section will be updated to reflect these changes as we receive more information.

Amateur choirs


The Prime Minister also failed to give any reassurance on the position of indoor amateur choir rehearsals and performances, which are currently limited to a maximum of 6 people, making them completely impracticable. These restrictions have had a major impact on the wellbeing of choral singers, as we know that singing together can have a significant positive effect on mental health

Many professional choir directors and accompanists who work with amateur choirs were hoping that the Government would revise this limit on 21 June, to allow for such rehearsals to take place. The justification for the limit has been based on research which was previously used to allow rehearsals to go ahead, and ignores more recent studies.

There are also inconsistencies in the guidance. Firstly, the PERFORM study of August 2020 concluded that singing and speaking both carried increased risk of transmission via droplets and aerosols at high volume. Yet, while choirs are not permitted, shouting indoors at a pub, an indoor grassroots sports event or at an amateur theatre performance is. Secondly, it is unclear what the evidence is that professional singers - now able to resume in-person activity indoors - are less likely to transmit the virus than non-professional singers.

Together with partner organisations, we have been extremely active in campaigning for better guidance on this important issue. It is our belief that that indoor singing activity should be brought in line with the guidance for other non-professional music activity and indoor organised sports activity, as was the case between August and December 2020.

What support does the sector need?

We have written to the Prime Minister (21 June) following his announcement on 14 June that the current public health restrictions will remain for at least a further four weeks. Our letter outlines steps which should be taken urgently to remove the obstacles to venues reopening, improve the viability of live performance and help ensure the sector continues to attract and retain talent. Significant efforts must be made to protect live performance and ensure its return once restrictions are eventually lifted.

1. Remove the obstacles to venues reopening

A major barrier to the return of performance, is the failure of the commercial insurance market to offer suitable cancellation policies. The ISM have been continually lobbying Government for a reinsurance package similar to the £500 million Restart Scheme for Film and TV.

We are also proposing the creation of a new tax relief for live music, touring and new compositions. This would follow the regulatory elements of the Theatre Tax Relief and would cover production costs and support performances of new music. Our sector makes a major contribution to the UK’s wealth, health and global cultural influence so significant efforts must be made to stimulate the return of live performance.

2. Transparency

During Step 2 and 3 of the roadmap out of lockdown, Government established an Events Research Programme which undertook pilot events to examine the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from attendance at events and explore ways to enable people to attend a range of events safely. These pilot events took place during April and May 2021 across a range of settings, venue types, and activity types so that findings could support the full reopening of similar settings across multiple sectors.

We are calling for the Government to publish the scientific data and reports on these pilot events, to help inform the safe return of live performance and amateur choirs. Thousands of jobs and livelihoods within the sector are at stake, which is why we need complete transparency from the Government regarding their decision making.

3. Fair guidance

We anticipate further guidance to be issued in the coming days, and will update our England-specific advice page once this has been reviewed by our in-house legal team. In the meantime, we will continue to seek clarity from official sources about how the music community can safely and legally function within these limitations.

Furthermore, we will be pressuring the Government to address the unfair discrepancy between the treatment of music and sport throughout the pandemic. Elite athletes have had preferential treatment for self-isolation exemptions when returning to the UK, amateur sport has had fewer safety restrictions than choirs and the return of live events seemingly prioritised tournaments rather than performances. It is our belief that the Government's decision-making has been to the detriment of musicians and there should be parity with athletes. Better provisions in the guidance should be made to treat our world-leading cultural industries fairly.

4. Additional support for freelancers

Now is the time for the Government to look again at proposals designed to support musicians who are unable to fully return to work. We believe that there are strong arguments for expanding existing support for freelancers and making improvements to the Cultural Recovery Fund so that funding reaches individual creatives, not just arts organisations. With many musicians unable to work since March 2020, the Government must act now to protect our arts sector.