An open letter from Skiddle to the industry 21 Oct 2020
CC: Ben Wallace MP
CC: Boris, Number 10 Downing Street
CC: Preston City Council
CC: Oliver Dowden, Culture Minister.
21st October 2020
It’s been a tough year for lots of people and it’s certainly no exception at Skiddle. The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the industry and not only brought our income (which is 98% ticket sales) to a complete halt, but has in fact reversed as we have refunded many millions of pounds back to our fantastic customers.
We are currently operating at a maximum of 15% of our usual income, and the reserves that we have spent so many years reinvesting into our business are dwindling.
We’ve worked hard to maintain fantastic relationships between event organisers and customers, and yes we decided to refund booking fees back to customers in credit form that they can use on the site again in the future.
We realise this wasn’t ideal, but as our only form of income we needed to retain this so we could keep Skiddle afloat and as many people in work as possible.
At present, there are no clear signs of a recovery for the industry. We absolutely enthuse at people’s risk in organising normal events for 2021 and it’s amazing to see customers support these events with advanced purchases. Across the country, there is a smattering of creative, socially distanced events taking place which are keeping the music alive (and people sane) but we are still a long way from being back to normal.
Unfortunately, we have had to lose some fantastic members of staff (around 20 in total), we have closed one of our offices. We had to outlay on digital phone systems and purchase a whole load of hardware so we could maintain our usual levels of customer service whilst working from the sofa, kitchen table or garden shed.
We’ve tried to laugh, we’ve definitely cried, we are tired and a little bit broken.
Yet we are still here. More importantly the majority of the industry still is as well. Sadly we are aware of some casualties, many financial ones but unfortunately some physical ones as well, with the news that some of the people we work with have been unable to face the challenge ahead and taken their own lives as the only answer. We are very, very sorry to hear this.
We have stood alongside you at the #wemakeevents marches. We have spoken to tens of thousands of you on the phone, understanding your frustrations of the movement or cancellation of events, hearing your own stories of the challenges that COVID-19 has created.
We are eternally grateful for the love and support we have received throughout these times and hope that we can continue to serve you long into the future.
Skiddle was able to take advantage of the government furlough scheme for which we were thankful. However at the time when business rates relief was offered to the hospitality industry we were told categorically by Preston City Council that ‘as nobody comes into your premises to buy a ticket, you are an office and not categorised as hospitality or cultural’’
We took this further with our MP, the Secretary of State for Defence nonetheless, Ben Wallace who said he would push for us to be included and then signposted us to a discretionary grant, of which we were not eligible for as we had too many employees.
When the Cultural Recovery Fund was announced then, we checked the criteria which reads “By ‘cultural organisation’, we mean an organisation that works in one of our supported artforms or disciplines: music, theatre, dance, combined arts, visual arts, museums, or literature.” or as our MP Ben Wallace put it “This support package will benefit cultural sector services by providing support to cultural venues and many other organisations in the Creative Industries that host live events, to stay open and continue operating”.
Skiddle took the decision not to apply, as we frankly did not fit the criteria as a cultural venue or host live events. We felt, and STILL feel that the money was best distributed to the many thousands of amazing venues, promoters and arts organisations across the country that frankly, without you – Skiddle would be nothing.
Imagine our sheer disgust then when the lists are published of who received grants, and amongst the many great people that received money, we see companies like Resident Advisor – a website that writes music reviews of events across the world, whilst generating income from tickets – and on their very own Facebook describe themselves as a Media/news company, and on Companies House list under 58190 – Other publishing activities – or Ticketline (the clues in the name) receiving VAST sums of money – whilst at the same time some of the best venues and event creators in the country/the world were not successful as they “Didn’t fit the bill”.
We are talking about The Frog and Bucket in Manchester who helped launch the careers of Peter Kay and Jack Whitehall, or Printworks in London which has been a simply magnificent addition to UK Nightlife. Many venues who DID apply, were not awarded, whilst publications or dormant event brands were.
This is frankly, ridiculous and yet more evidence of how disconnected our government is from culture. Oliver Dowden bleats on about the opera whilst our industry dies. A fund that was designed to save venues, to save culture has been savaged by people who knew how to write better applications than others – even if they don’t appear to fit the criteria.
Skiddle WILL be ok. The road to recovery will be a long, bumpy one but as long as we stick together with the remainder of our fantastic team then we will be able to continue serving both the event organisers and customers for a long time to come. Our approach to finance has always been simple, we never touch event organisers ticket money for our own use, we don’t have any investors to please. Nearly 20 years of hard work was constantly reinvested into the company to further our growth. We will pay back our CBILS loan. Eventually.
Now it is time for our leaders to listen. Time to listen to some of the amazing people in this industry that actually have the slightest clue of the UK events scene and the importance of it to our culture. We made our greatest friends on the dancefloor, and we would like our children to be able to as well.
In summary, we call on you, the UK Government to get a grip. A funding process should be fair. There should be clear guidance across all authorities and agencies regarding who can apply for what support and why. Define Culture, define Hospitality, define Retail. Alongside this, there needs to be a clear roadmap out of the pandemic, and a conversation around what the future might hold for the fantastic music and cultural sector this country has been proud of for so long.
Richard Dyer,Ben Sebborn and the entire team at Skiddle Ltd.
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