Our colleagues at the Music Venue Trust have just sent this important letter to the DCMS
RT Hon Matt Hancock MP
Minister of State for Digital and Culture
Department for Culture, Media & Sport
100 Parliament Street
Thank you for your time and interest in our recent meeting. I feel there is a lot we can achieve to support grassroots music venues in the UK and look forward to taking our discussions forward.
I am writing to you as a matter of urgency on behalf of Music Venue Trust in our capacity as the representative organisation of the Music Venues Alliance; a network of over 270 grassroots music venues from across the UK. Grassroots Music Venues play a vital social, cultural and economic role in their communities, delivering over 80,000 live music performances a year, attended by circa 12 million people per annum. They are the research and development departments of the UK music industry, which contributes £4.1billion to the UK economy.
We warmly welcome recent government moves to secure and protect this sector through amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework and the Town & Country Planning Act, and note the positive approach of the DCLG and DCMS to ensuring a future for these venues with additional support proposed in paragraphs 140 and 141 of the Housing White Paper. This sector has come under substantial external threats in the last ten years, resulting in a decline of 35% in the total number of grassroots music venues trading in the UK, and we appreciate the steps government is taking to combat that decline.
However, a grave and urgent threat has emerged to the future of these venues as a result of the Business Rate Review 2017 which threatens to undermine these positive steps. Specifically, within London, the Business Rate Review has resulted in proposed increases in Rateable values of between 35 to 55%. There is no capacity within the economic model to achieve such an increase. Equally, grassroots music venues that have survived the last ten years find themselves in a precarious economic position, which leaves them unable to pass any such increase onto their audiences without substantially reducing access to culture and/or placing attendance at risk. Even with proposed transitional relief, such increases are unachievable by grassroots music venues and will, inevitably, result in additional closures.
This threat, like many others during recent years, has not been designed by government, and we recognise that there is no deliberately punitive intent on the part of any local, regional, or national agency. Rather, it is the application of ‘the law of unintended consequences’; grassroots music venues have a specific social, cultural and economic role which has not been recognised in the review. That role is sufficiently important to the future of the UK’s music and cultural economy that we believe that everyone will agree that we need to take action to ensure that we do not further damage the grassroots music venues sector as the unintended consequence of the Business Rate Review.
We are writing to ask you to urgently consider what steps can be taken to mitigate the negative impact on grassroots music venues. This might include creating a specific category that addresses their cultural position, to bring them into line with theatres, arts centres etc, or by providing access to additional transitional relief.
We would like to work with national government to ensure that action is taken to mitigate the potential damage arising from the Business Rate Review. We acknowledge that the direct imposition of the new Business Rates is a matter for local government, but we want to provide clear direction and support to those local authorities so that they are enabled to specifically support grassroots music venues.
We are asking you to please provide that important lead from national government. This is an important matter to all grassroots music venues across the UK and we ask that you address it with urgency.
As a cross departmental issue, appropriate copies of this letter have been delivered to RT Hon Karen Bradley MP, RT Hon Sajid Javid MP at DCLG and to Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP at HM Treasury. We would encourage a cross departmental response to this challenge.
Music Venue Trust
On behalf of 273 members of the Music Venues Alliance