Higher business rates 'could threaten live music venues'

Increasing tax paid by music venues could pose a major threat to the UK's live music scene, according to academics.

The organisers of Britain's first live music census say a major overhaul of commercial property rates - which will be revealed in Wednesday's Budget - could see a huge rise in costs and force many venues to close.

Matt Brennan, of the University of Edinburgh, who is leading the project, said venues operating at grassroots level are particularly vulnerable.

He said: "Venues around the country have been telling us that they already operate on thin margins, so proposed increases in rateable values of up to 55% in some cases will have a significant impact.

"The UK Live Music Census will be very important in identifying challenges that the industry faces, such as rising rates and other issues. It will give us a detailed picture of what exactly it means to be a venue owner, a musician and a live music lover in 2017.

"Our hope is that the census will be a vital tool in strengthening a much-loved part of the UK's culture."

Described by its organisers as a "Springwatch for live music", the census is led by the universities of Edinburgh, Newcastle and Glasgow.

For 24 hours, volunteers will track performances in cities across the country from lone buskers to massed choirs and from dance floors to stadium concerts.

There will be co-ordinated censuses in Glasgow, Newcastle, Oxford, Leeds, Southampton and Brighton, with volunteers attending live music events including Olly Murs at Leeds Arena, Nicola Benedetti at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, RnB in Oxford, and jazz in Newcastle.

Jo Dipple, chief executive of UK Music, one of the partners of the census, said: "The findings for each of the six cities will inform academics, entrepreneurs and music fans alike. It will help organisations like UK Music to understand better the pressures on music businesses and venues so we can lobby for the most effective policies in each area.

"For example, we know that a disproportionate hike in business rates could pose a serious threat to qualifying music SMEs and grassroots venues. The more we are able to identify threats, the more effective our lobbying for policy change in that area will be."

Lord Clement-Jones, a Liberal Democrat peer and spokesman for the creative industries, said: "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 collected by UK Live Music Census will help us protect live music going into the future."

A Government spokesman said: "The revaluation ensures business rate bills more closely reflect the property market.

"The Government has introduced a £6.7 billion package of measures providing support for all ratepayers, and 600,000 businesses will pay no rates at all.

"For those that may see rises in their bills as a result of the revaluation we've put in place £3.6 billion in transitional relief, and ministers are looking at how best to provide further support to businesses facing the steepest increases as part of the Budget on Wednesday."