This road to post-Brexit sunlit uplands seems to be a bumpy one; we’re all travelling on the same road; we just seem to be in different vehicles with different levels of comfort. A journey that springs to mind was a school climbing club trip to Wales. It rained, naturally, heavily, relentlessly on the final day so the decision was made to nip over to Anglesey to have a look at some majestic sea cliffs that we all hoped to conquer at some point in the future.
The trip home was taken either in the relative comfort of a minibus or, as your correspondent experienced, the back of the physics teacher’s Series 1 Land Rover – three unwashed, sodden teenagers, side-facing metal bench seat with a seriously ineffective foam pad, freedom of movement impossible due to the baggage loosely strapped on the opposite bench, no idea of where we were on the road, condensation creating a micro climate akin to a rainforest. It was unpleasant, slow, tedious, worrying at times but we got there, despite the minority of those on board trying hard to convince us that we never would.
The problem with any kind of event production is that we don’t really know when we’ll set off on our new routes to working in the EU; all we have is what we read, whether correct or not. It seems that attitudes fall into two camps: those that are studying detail to see what we can do, and those that are determined to focus on what, in their opinion, we can’t do. The latter seem to be winning the battle in some quarters, running a real risk of creating non-existent problems that put people off using UK crews and vendors or deter bands, say, from touring. A widely shared story from New Order stating that they’d cancelled a European tour due to added expense and administration was a bit of a surprise to some that would usually be notified of plans to tour.
Of course, the majority of people connected with touring productions voted to remain in the EU, foreseeing trouble with the ending of free movement. Once the referendum result was declared, some maintained their stance whilst others cited the democratic will of those that voted and chose to accept the result. Now we’re in the grips of the agreement brokered by our various negotiators, there are some that seemingly remain determined to see our sector fail to prove a point, utilising some of the populist platforms that got us into this situation in the first place.
Of course, much more is being achieved in the background, with initial focuses on work permit requirements, both inbound and outbound, by our partners in LIVE yielding a guide to those countries (16 at the last count) that give permit-free access to performers and crew. The guide also lists those countries that may need some degree of form filling to gain an exemption plus the four (yes, only four) member states that have a chargeable system in place. The one major market with such a regime is Spain. Of the others, one has responded that their process was not really designed for cultural activity and shouldn’t be a problem. What many are citing in theory could well prove to be a lot simpler in practice.
Much criticism has been levelled at the UK Government, perhaps rightfully so, but perhaps also there is blame to be placed on both sides for not having effective representation from cultural departments or directorates in the negotiations, seemingly choosing instead to have them play bit parts in the acts that affected our sector’s ability to move performances. Certainly in terms of freedom of movement for people, there was will on both sides. This has simply led to the ‘they said, we said’ blame game. At a recent All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Music meeting, Musicians Union General Secretary, Horace Trubridge noted that it is important to establish whether there is a will to negotiate, that there is nothing to be gained from looking backwards at who said what and that we should be informed if Government is willing to go and talk. The stock response from Digital and Culture Minister, Caroline Dinenage is ‘my door is always open’. During the same APPG meeting, one MP suggested that she should walk through it and go knock on theirs.
While some sit and blog and ministers toe the party line, the live music sector is pushing on with work. It has been suggested that bi-lateral deals are the way forward, but with a minister letting the heat out through an always-open door, there is a flurry of activity between UK businesses and those in the more problematic member states to see what pressure can be exerted from within. If a promoter in Spain sees an opportunity to sell tickets being blocked by rules that don’t exist in other member states, they are probably better placed to request easements than a UK Government ministry that was left in the cold during negotiations and is currently sitting in a draughty office, door ajar.
It has been mentioned that production suppliers have already begun asking UK crew about their ‘EU working status’. The response should, of course, be that they can travel to any EU country for a maximum of 90 days in 180, with the majority requiring no work permit for the activity they carry out. What we really do need to consider and perhaps research is just how many UK crew have spent more than the newly allotted time in the EU in the past, and how many of the ‘problem states’ they have worked in. It has to be said that any financial or admin burden created by needing access for more that 90 days may well be offset by the money earned in that period. None of this should be necessary but someone voted for it.
If freedom of movement for people looks better on paper than it does on some Facebook groups, access for trucks really is as bad as it seems, albeit before any of the new arrangements are tested in practice. With major suppliers already operating or launching operations in the EU, there is a stop gap solution that has already been proposed. This would involve giving unilateral unlimited access to ‘cultural haulage’ operators that are co-located in the EU and UK, the newly EU-registered trucks being afforded EU and UK access. In addition, companies that have been forced to relocate should be supported to do so, with grants towards the costs of retraining drivers and operational staff to meet EU requirements. This proposal is with Government. It also paints a picture of the entire supply ecosystem being forced to move to the EU if there is no-long term solution to market access for vehicles.
The one Government solution that shows promise is the development and funding of a ‘Cultural Export Office’. Whether this is simply a portal for information or a pot of cash to help enable touring for grassroots artists remains to be seen but, as it was a proposal from the Culture Secretary, it’s an idea that could gain traction.
One thing is certain; it’s the industry rather than our Government that has so far taken the wheel for this particular trip, dealing with realities, practicalities and future practices rather than pawing over the recent past. Judging on past performance alone, it’s perhaps best in our hands, working on what’s possible, navigating speed bumps and avoiding those that are determined to throw a Stinger across the road to prove a point.
This article originally appeared in issue #259 of TPi, which you can read here.