High Streets Initiative · 21 February 2018

Small music venues call for emergency business rates review in bid for survival

Oasis were famously signed during a gig at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow

The growing business rates burden is threatening the survival of Britain’s small music venues, according to findings from the country’s first live music census.

The report, undertaken by UK Live Music Census, took the views of almost 200 business owners (running venues with a capacity of up to 350) to highlight the struggles facing smaller venues specialising in late-night events.

It also detailed the value of live music to local economies. In Glasgow, venues generate an annual £78.8m and an estimated 2,450 full-time jobs, while in Newcastle-Gateshead, £43.3m is brought in annually from concerts.

However, a combination of rising business rates, property developments and noise restrictions have seen grassroots venues struggle to stay in business.

Challenges for independent venues
• Increased business rates (40 per cent)
• Parking issues (36 per cent)
• Property development (33 per cent)
• Noise restrictions (29 per cent)
• Licensing issues (25 per cent)

Some 40 per cent of all small venues surveyed cited increased business rates as having had an “extreme, strong or moderate negative impact” on live music events in the past 12 months.

Last year’s business rates revaluation was the government’s first since 2010, reflecting seven years of rising property prices. Bills for the 2018/19 regime were handed out this week, and revealed local councils are set to collect £24.8bn from business owners – an additional £845m on the previous year.

One venue owner, from the South West of England, called for an “emergency action plan” to review business rates for grassroots music venues, having seen their own rateable value rise from £17,500 to £72,000.

The Joiners in Southampton

The report also suggested recent revaluation had been weighted in the favour of large businesses.

While the Lexington venue in North London was hit with a 118 per cent rise in its rateable value in 2017, the nearby Emirates stadium, the 60,000-capacity home of Arsenal Football Club, enjoyed a seven per cent cut.

The report recommended that the government reviews business rates for “music venues and other smaller spaces for live music”.

Some 18 per cent of survey respondents suggested a review of business rates, alongside tax breaks such as a VAT exemption or a discount on ticket sales for smaller venues.

Providing a testimony to the report, Ricky Bates, artist booker at Southampton’s 200-capacity The Joiners, which has hosted early concerts by acts including Arctic Monkeys, Oasis and Coldplay, explained how government could guarantee the survival of similar venues.

“One thing that would have an immediate effect on us would be to reduce or remove the business rates that we have to pay,” he said.

“We paid 20 per cent on all of our tickets to the government in tax and then give up 80 per cent of our profit to the bands, that’s 100 percent gone. We don’t make any profit on tickets, so that’s why we say it’s a non-profit business. The only money we make is on the bar but we only make 30 per cent on the bar so we have to survive off that 30 per cent.”

Bates pointed out that theatres enjoyed tax breaks on tickets, which are also usually set at a higher price.

He also highlighted the tax breaks offered to grassroots venues in France, Germany, Belgium Portugal and Italy. “They’re exempt from high business rates because they’re treated as a cultural asset for the city or the town that they’re in.”

Timothy Clement-Jones, Liberal Democrat peer and spokesperson for the creative industries in the House of Commons, welcomed the report’s recommendations.

“Live music is facing a number of challenges at the moment, from venues closing down to the threat of increased business rates. However, data about the sector has so far been relatively scarce and mostly anecdotal, and so the much needed data will help us protect live music going into the future.”

Business rates


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This article is part of a wider campaign called the High Streets Initiative, a new section of Business Advice championing independent and small retailers by identifying the issues that put Britain’s high streets under pressure. Visit our High Streets Initiative section to find out more.

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Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.


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