Grassroots music venues – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Related inquiry: Grassroots music venues

Date Published: 11 May 2024

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As one of only three net exporters globally and with a multi-billion-pound industry in terms of gross value added to the economy, the UK is a music powerhouse. Live music is a key part of this success, contributing £5.2 billion and supporting 228,000 full- and part-time jobs in 2022, even after the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, grassroots live music venues, the local, limited capacity venues integral to the pipeline of creative and professional talent and key fixtures of our communities, are now facing a crisis of soaring costs and closures. These venues are stopping live music or closing entirely at a rate of two per week. Artists, and the people who rely on them for business, are facing a cost-of-touring crisis and finding opportunities squeezed. Promoters are less able to put on shows or make them financially viable. Festivals, electronic music venues and even academies and arenas are not insulated from the impacts. A comprehensive review by the Government is now needed to fully examine the long-term challenges to the live music ecosystem. This should be launched as a matter of urgency by summer 2024 and cover the perspectives of everyone affected, including fans.

While we found arguments for a compulsory levy to be compelling in principle, as a fair and sustainable mechanism, we understand why stakeholders have coalesced around a voluntary system in recognition of the urgency of the crisis and the need to build consensus. We call for a widespread voluntary levy to be in place no later than September 2024, to be followed by an assessment by the Government on its effectiveness. However, if a widespread voluntary levy is not in place by September 2024, or if its level does not stem the tide of closures, the Government should introduce a statutory scheme. Any scheme must be accessible to venues, artists and promoters.

The Government should also introduce a targeted, temporary cut to VAT to stimulate grassroots music activity and help the sector through the current closure crisis, and must provide certainty on the future of business rates relief.

While we welcome the Arts Council England (ACE)’s efforts to address access to public funding for the sector, perceptions about access remain the same. The Government and ACE should take steps to reduce the administrative burden in applications.

Intra-industry disputes, regarding PRS for Music and commission on merchandise sales, should be resolved within industry at the first instance. The comprehensive review of PRS’s tariffs, due to begin in summer 2024, is a useful opportunity to consider how venues’ and promoters’ concerns with PRS can be mitigated for the next period. We call on all stakeholders across the industry to continue to support the artist trade body Featured Artists’ Coalition in its campaign to end punitive fees on artists’ merchandise and ensure take-up among their members.

Venues are also facing widespread risk of closure due to planning and redevelopment-related issues. The Government made progress by including an “agent of change principle” in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This principle should be put on a statutory footing at the earliest opportunity.