A stark warning has been released that the impending energy crisis could pose a greater threat to UK grassroots music venues than the COVID pandemic unless the government takes immediate action.

Earlier this week, five organisations representing the UK hospitality sector penned an open letter to the UK government, highlighting “rocketing energy prices” that are forecast to become “a matter of existential emergency” later this year – and demanding that the government act soon to prevent a catastrophe to UK culture.

In the hospitality sector, operators are facing average annual bill increases in the region of at least 300 per cent, meaning that many businesses and jobs in the sector are “at grave risk”.

Now, Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd has spoken to NME of the true threat posed by the looming price rise, comparing it to the COVID pandemic which at one point saw 93 per cent of the UK’s grassroots music venues were under threat of being closed forever due to losses caused by restrictions.

“Without action from the government, we are now modelling that this will close more venues than the pandemic,” he argued. “We don’t see any other outcome.”

He continued: “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.”

The Energy Crisis: The Numbers. The Grassroots Music Venue sector is facing a potential additional £90 million a year in energy costs. The Government must act or venues will simply close.

Posted by Music Venue Trust on Thursday, August 18, 2022

The MVT also shared their findings that the UK Grassroots Music Venue sector is facing a potential additional £90million per year in energy costs. By their modelling, a venue currently paying the average of around £1,245 per month will see a lowest possible increase of 156 per cent (to £3,187 per month), an average increase of 316 per cent (to £5,179 per month) and with a highest possible increase of 646 per cent to £9,288 per month.

Davyd said that these figures were all based on quotes received by venues – with many of them having no choice in terms of seeking alternatives. Ultimately, he said that the result would be music fans experiencing much higher prices or venues eventually shutting completely.

“This, unless the government tries to do something, is the new reality – electricity is going to be this amount of money,” said Davyd. “The question is ‘What is the tolerance of the audience for significant price increases?’ Your days of the £5 show for three local bands – that wouldn’t even cover the cost of the electricity.”

He went on: “I imagine that venues may well suffer death by a thousand cuts. They won’t instinctively close down, and they’re more likely to go, ‘Let’s put £4 extra on an £8 ticket and see if people are prepared to pay for it’. I’ve got severe doubts about that.

“It’s a terrible time for new and emerging artists. Everyone needs to get out there and play for their audiences. What’s that going to feel like when ticket prices go up? The artist won’t be earning more. I had one venue who just honestly said, ‘There is no way I can put an electricity levy on the tickets’. You’d have to section that out across everything else.”

Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker onstage at the Leadmill in Sheffield on August 9. Credit: Tom Sunderland

Davyd added that “music venues and cultural facilities are in the front line of this”, but that the knock-on effects of the energy crisis would of course felt every without an energy cap and quick and decisive action.

“The government needs to start thinking that this is going to happen in retail, it’s going to happen in your local supermarket, your school – there are no controls here,” he said. “The government imagined that the market would sort it all out and it’s painfully obvious that it isn’t going to happen.

“The government should bring in a price cap immediately. At the moment, there’s a certain amount of just sitting back and seeing what happens. Something either works or it doesn’t, and this doesn’t work.”

In the open letter to the government signed by Music Venue Trust along with UK Hospitality, Night Time Industries Association, The British Institute of Innkeeping and The British Beer and Pub Association, the bodies wrote: “Hospitality provides 10 per cent of jobs and 5 per cent of GDP. It can be a powerful driver of economic recovery and growth for the nation, but it urgently needs a kick start. Business and consumer confidence is suffering, and we urgently need the Government and the leadership contenders to outline a support package for the sector.

“We urge you not to allow the stasis of party politics to stifle the urgent delivery of action on energy.”

This comes as the UK music industry also spoke of how the government’s inaction of Brexit touring issues is “strangling the next generation of UK talent in the cradle“.

Back in May the Music Venue Trust announced Music Venue Properties, an initiative which will involve purchasing the freehold of grassroots music venues across the UK.

Meanwhile, a campaign to stop music venues from taking a cut of artists’ merchandise sales is proving successful, but campaigners say that more live music spaces still need to sign up.

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