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Live music and entertainment businesses are being left to “buckle under the weight of the latest Covid wave” as cancellations hammer festive bookings, bosses have said.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the public to expect new controls to curb the spread of the Omicron variant amid fears the NHS could be overwhelmed.
Mr Johnson, who was speaking after a special two-hour meeting of the Cabinet, said the data was being monitored “hour by hour” and said: “At the moment, what I think we want people to focus on is exercising caution.”
Greg Parmley, chief executive of Live – the federation which represents music industry venues and entertainment including companies, artists and backstage workers, described the Government position as “merely an excuse to withhold desperately needed financial support as sectors like live music and entertainment buckle under the weight of the latest Covid wave”.
He added: “In addition, there are businesses in the live music industry that are faced with huge decisions in the next 48 hours about whether to mount expensive shows for just after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, caught in a catch-22 of losing money if they pull them now or risking even more by going ahead – only to find the Government closes all activity later.
“We need guidance and clarity now so that businesses can make the best decisions possible without putting at risk their tentative recovery.”
Live said that of the 40 music venues and main ticketing agencies who were questioned in a survey, 95% said Omicron had affected their business, while 72.5% of those said it had made a significant impact on their line of work.
This was as fewer people were coming to shows, there were dramatic reductions in ticket sales and significant increases in requests for refunds – plus half of all venues had cancelled shows for January and February.
Patrick Dardis, the chief executive of Young’s pub chain, said “it is crisis point” as many landlords and managers who should be working through their busiest time of the year are instead dealing with crossed-out bookings, blank diary pages or question marks over the entries that remain.
He said: “It pretty much feels like a lockdown (by stealth). Bookings are down 50% and getting worse.”
He fears imposing tighter restrictions, such as gatherings of a maximum of six people or outdoors only service, would “devastate the entire hospitality brewing sector that directly employs over three million people, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be at risk” and “businesses will close permanently”.
Mr Dardis, who said the “current rules, never mind more restrictions, all appear to be in place to protect the unvaccinated”, added: “We cannot continue to disrupt people’s lives, livelihoods, causing unbelievable mental health issues and lost schools days.
“If there is a circuit breaker. The Chancellor must step in and immediately announce the end of business rates, VAT to zero for at least six months, plus a cash injection to protect jobs.”
Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “The hardest hit sectors have experienced a huge drop in business over the last week, but the Government has behaved as though nothing has changed. People deserve honesty, practical help, and clarity so they can plan for the future.
“The Government should be providing targeted support for business and workers in the hardest hit sectors, must urgently fix sick pay, and provide wider support to the economy in the new year through action to ease the burden of business rates.”
Mr Johnson said: “Unfortunately I must say to people that we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public, to protect public health, to protect our NHS.
“We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out.
“But at the moment, what I think we want people to focus on is exercising caution – so ventilation, masks in the appropriate places, all the usual stuff about washing hands, but remember how contagious Omicron really is.”