Grassroots Music Venues: UK Politicians Call For Arena Ticket Levy & Tax Relief

Wizkid Performs At The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Fans at Wizkid’s stadium show at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, July 29, 2023 in London, England. UK politicians urge stakeholders involved in putting on these kinds of blockbuster events to use some of the ticketing income to help the struggling grassroots venues sector. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

UK members of parliament from the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee have heard, and reviewed evidence given by the country’s live sector, and came to the conclusion that “a new levy on arena, and stadium tickets, and a cut in VAT are urgently needed to support grassroots music venues across the country as they struggle to cope with a crisis of closures and soaring costs,” as a press release from the committee sums it up.

The committee drew up a report containing its recommendations, and highlighting the importance of small local venues for “the pipeline of professional creative and technical music talent.”

The report can be read here.

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The current economic pressures on the grassroots sector forced venues to stop putting on shows, or shut their doors for good, at a rate of two per week, the committee finds.

It also recognized, that artists were facing a “cost of touring crisis,” while promoters are struggling to get shows off their spreadsheets and into venues.

Immediate financial help is to be given through a voluntary levy on arena and stadium tickets that’ll benefit the grassroots sector. This levy shouldn’t be passed on to music fans, but come out the pockets of the stakeholders putting on blockbuster shows in huge buildings.

If such a voluntary levy isn’t established by the stakeholders working at arena and stadium level by September, or if it fails to collect enough money to efficiently support the sector, the government should step in and introduce a statutory levy, according to the committees recommendations.

The second big help for the grassroots sector would be a temporary VAT cut on ticket sales. The UK rate of 20% VAT, is way higher than what the rest of Europe’s governments charge on cultural goods, such as tickets. A VAT cut in the UK would make a significant difference to the grassroots sector, and help stem the tide of closures.

In addition, “a comprehensive fan-led review of live and electronic music should be set up this summer to examine the long-term challenges to the wider live music ecosystem,” according to a press release from the UK’s Culture, Media, and Sport Committee.

The report also recommends that government and England’s Arts Council make it easier for the live music sector to apply for public funding; and to support the Featured Artists Coalition’s “100% Venues campaign,” aimed at ending “punitive commissions charged by some venues on the sale of artist merchandise.”

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The Committee inquiry, launched at the Music Venue Trust’s Venues Day in October 2023, heard evidence from across the sector explaining the scale of the crisis facing venues, and the impact this is having on artists, and all those that rely on them for business.

Speaking for Pollstar’s inaugural UK Focus, Jon Collins, CEO of UK trade body LIVE, said, from the artists to the crew to the tour managers, agents, and promoters – “everybody learns their craft at smaller venues to begin with, and then they come through.” He explained that it has become so expensive to open doors for a gig night in the current economy, that any artist performing in those spaces needs to be able to move enough tickets to get (close) to capacity, severely reducing the clubs’ ability to give up-and-coming talent a stage. “You can see grassroots venues shifting towards a more conservative music policy out of necessity, that might mean more DJ-led sessions, or more cover bands,” Collins said.

The MVT described 2023 as the most challenging year for the sector since the trust was founded in 2014, while Creative UK said the grassroots music sector took a “battering.” In total, the number of grassroots music venues declined from 960 to 835 last year, a net decrease of 13%, representing a loss of as many as 30,000 shows and 4,000 jobs.


The UK government’s culture, media and sports committee held three evidence sessions on the state of grassroots music venues, March 26, to determine the state of the sector, which has lost 125 venues last year. The impact equaled “125 communities that have lost access to live music on their doorstep,” according to Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd, who was part of the group that gave evidence in the first session. Davyd said, “we are seeing young people, and communities of music fans, finding live music further and further away from them.”

In terms of the short-term economic impact, those 125 venues would have provided 16%, or circa 30,000, of all the performance opportunities in the UK for artists. It’s also a massive loss of jobs, seeing that some 30 people on average work at these buildings. In the long term, the closure of venues would lead to a blockage in the talent pipeline, the “ignition engine, the starter motor,” of this industry, as Davyd described it.

Not having spaces for newcomers to perform and hone their skills in was one thing, the other was that young people wouldn’t even find inspiration to pursue a musical path, because they simply had no live music to get inspired by around them.

Jon Collins, CEO of UK trade body LIVE, raised the issue that the music industry wasn’t just just losing grassroots venues at alarming rates, but festivals, too, of which 28 cancelled just in 2024. What is more, young artists weren’t able to afford to go on tour in the current economic climate. “There is a general pressure at that grassroots level, where fundamentally costs are overtaking the revenues side of things,” he said.

Davyd commented on the Supporting Grassroots Fund, announced by the UK’s department for culture, media, and sports in July last year, which currently stood at £4 million ($5 million) for the entire grassroots ecosystem, where “the demand far outstrips the supply.” Cultural funding in the UK was still heavily tilted towards what was generally described as the high arts. He emphasized, that the government was doing a good job in light of the current economic climate, though. “I’m very focused on what the industry itself can do at the moment, recognizing that the public purse is definitely restrained,” he said.

As the sector has shouted for years, a business rates relief, as well as a cut on the VAT paid on tickets, would help a lot.

“In our sector,” said Davyd, “the cut on VAT would essentially cut pre-profit taxation. These are businesses that are living on a very slim profit margin. More than a third of them made a loss in 2023. A 5% or a 10% cut on VAT would increase that 0.5% profit margin by a small amount. The loss these venues are making strictly on the tickets, as opposed to their investment in live music, is running at £114 million pounds a year. They bring in £134 million pounds in ticket money, and spend £248 million pounds on live music. They make up the rest of that with alcohol or food sales. If there was a VAT cut on tickets, it would certainly give us the space to go to the leading figures in the music industry, and say, ‘listen, now is the time for you to reinvest that in the research and development that’s happening at this level.’”

Joining the second evidence session was Stuart Galbraith, CEO of KMJ Entertainment (formerly Kilimanjaro Live), and vice-chair of the UK’s Concert Promoters Association. He said, “the closure of grassroots venues has several impacts on us. First of all, it’s more difficult for us to break new artists, because there are less venues that we can go out an play. Secondly, with the escalating costs of those venues, it’s more difficult to actually make those shows viable. And, indeed, if they’re not viable, they can’t take place. And thirdly, it restricts the talent stream for us in the form of personell rather than artists. If you look at membership across the CPO, most of the 60 members either have principals or major promoters that started off as promoters in grassroots music venues. I certainly was one of those.”


David Martin, CEO, Featured Artists Coalition, and Annabella Coldrick, chief executive, Music Managers Forum, released a joint statement: “As the organizations representing artists and managers, we wholeheartedly endorse all the Committee’s recommendations.

“Most important is their recognition of the ‘cost of touring crisis’, and that the benefits of a ticket levy must flow down to artists, managers, and independent promoters – as well as to grassroots music venues. The entire ecosystem needs support. While we still believe this mechanism should be mandatory, the clock is now ticking to get a process in place before September 2024.

“We are also delighted to see the Committee endorse the 100% Venues campaign, and hope this will trigger action from the UK’s largest live music venues to overhaul outdated practices on merchandise commissions. The sale of T-shirts, vinyl and other physical products represent a crucial income stream for artists. It is only fair that they should retain the bulk of that revenue.”

Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: “We are grateful to the many dedicated local venues who gave up their time to take part in our inquiry. They delivered the message loud and clear that grassroots music venues are in crisis. The ongoing wave of closures is not just a disaster for music, performers and supporters in local communities up and down the country, but also puts at risk the entire live music ecosystem. If the grassroots, where musicians, technicians, tour managers and promoters hone their craft, are allowed to wither and die, the UK’s position as a music powerhouse faces a bleak future.

“To stem the overwhelming ongoing tide of closures, we urgently need a levy on arena and stadium concert tickets to fund financial support for the sector, alongside a VAT cut to help get more shows into venues.

“While the current focus is on the many grassroots music venues falling silent, those working in the live music sector across the board are also under extraordinary strain. It is time that the Government brought together everyone with a stake in the industry’s success, including music fans, to address the long-term challenges and ensure live music can thrive into the future.”

UK Music interim chief executive Tom Kiehl said, “Grassroots music venues are a crucial part of the music industry’s ecosystem and have been faced with a series of unprecedented threats for a number of years. We welcome the House of Commons CMS Committee taking the opportunity to consider the challenges these venues and the artists that tour in them face. We hope that many of the Committee’s recommendations, which echo UK Music’s A Manifesto for Music and campaigns such as the FAC’s 100% Venues, lead to positive interventions from government, as well as building on previous steps it has taken to protect this fragile part of the music sector.”

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