As Russia’s war on Ukraine persists, its repercussions are felt not only by the nations involved but also by neighboring countries dependent on Russia for resources. This has led to a rising energy crisis across Europe, including the UK. The United Kingdom continues to face a tremendous surge in energy prices as the country slips into fuel poverty.
An average of 6.7 million households are now in fuel poverty. The number has hiked from 3.2 million in 2020 to 4 million in October 2021 to where it currently is. The newly appointed Prime Minister, Liz Truss, announced measures to soften the price hike as part of an energy policy package for domestic purposes. While the move is beneficial for households, businesses are devoid of the privilege and struggle to make ends meet.
The Rising Instability in the U.K.’s Live Music Scene
Unable to cope with the alarming bills, music organizations like UK Music, LIVE, The Music Venue Trust, and Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) appealed to the government ‘to protect the music and entertainment industries’. “Rocketing costs have created an existential threat for many music businesses and it’s vital the Government acts swiftly to protect the recovery that was under way in the music industry after the pandemic,” said Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, UK Music Chief Executive.
Fuel costs have spiked more than 300% for music venues, according to The Music Venue Trust, whereas some venues have witnessed a 1400% rise. Several grassroot music venues experienced a severe hike in their bills of GBP 134,000 (USD 154,218) – from GBP 10,000 (USD 11,509) to GBP 144,000 (USD 165,822). In the appeal, Njoku-Goodwin urges the new PM to cut VAT from its current 20% rate to 5% – a step taken by the government to aid the entertainment and hospitality industry during the pandemic.
Without government intervention, many venues stand at the risk of shutting down. Based on Music Venue Trust (MVT)’s findings, the grassroots music venue sector is facing a potential additional £90 million a year in energy costs. In comparison with the current average energy cost of GBP 1,245 (USD 1,433) per month per venue, their graph indicates that the lowest possible increase amidst the hike will be a whopping 156% (GBP 3,187 per month), an average increase of 316% (GBP 5,179 or USD 5,963 per month), or the highest increase of 646% (GBP 9,288 or USD 10,695 per month).
The Bigger Blow: COVID-19 or Energy Crisis?
The COVID-19-induced lockdown was a severe blow and a dire situation for the workings of music venues. Just as the sector was in an attempt to recoup its losses, spiraling energy rates emerged as the next existential crisis.
Government intervention during COVID with subsidies and tax reductions played a major role in sustaining many music venues. However, Music Venue Trust’s CEO Mark Davyd fears the energy crisis will overpower the pandemic’s tumult.
“It feels weird to say it, but unlike during COVID when you could go, ‘OK, we need to raise some money now because in a year’s time the venues will be open’, we can’t do that now because they’ll have to pay another electricity bill next year and the year after that, obviously. I can’t see any end to this unless venues put their prices up,” said Davyd.
Future of the U.K’s Live Music Scene
This new and imminent crisis has taken its toll on music venues’ owners, even leading to the closure of several venues, bars, and pubs. Venues require energy to power stage lighting, sound systems, kitchen electrical appliances, and more.
Every attempt to mitigate cost rises – installing timer switches on everything, including beer coolers, fridges and freezers, and energy-efficient lighting, still does less than the owners hope for. “You’ve got all the sound, the stage, the lighting. It literally is all about electricity. Without electricity, there’s nothing,” said a venue owner in Chester.
Venue owners resist coming forward to seek help for fear of losing their contracts with landlords or suppliers or being called to account for early debts. The high cost of living makes it difficult to increase ticket or food and beverage prices, as it becomes a matter of selecting necessity over entertainment for the consumer. Independent artists and bands will lose their space to perform with the closure of smaller venues. The looming predicament is clobbering the live music sector bit by bit, with no prospect in sight.
“We all experienced the huge void there was without live music during the pandemic when venues were shut for months. Without swift help for venues, studios and music companies struggling with soaring fuel bills, we risk losing them forever – and along with them a key part of the cultural fabric of our lives,” concluded Njoku-Goodwin of UK Music in his proposal.