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Skiddle slates decision to award grants to ticketing firms

Event guide and ticketing firm Skiddle has lashed out at the decision by the Arts Council England to award two of its competitors sizeable grants from the £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund.

In an open letter to the music industry, Skiddle explained that it did not apply for the funding as it believed it was set aside for venues, adding it has been unable to take advantage of any government finance schemes with the exception of furlough.

The letter, which is attributed to co-founders Richard Dyer and Ben Sebborn, conveys its “sheer disgust” at some companies receiving funding, mentioning Resident Advisor’s £750,000 grant in particular.

It reads: “Imagine our sheer disgust 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 clue’s 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’.”

The outraged co-founders said: “We checked the criteria which reads ‘by cultural organisation, we mean an organisation that works in one of our supported art forms 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’.”

Following this advice, the company opted not to apply for the Culture Recovery Fund as they did “not fit the criteria as a cultural venue or host live events.”

It continued: “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.”

Skiddle made use of both the UK government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the furlough scheme, but was not eligible for any business rates relief.

This is because its base near Preston in Lancashire was not categorised as “hospitality or cultural”. After reaching out to a local MP about the exclusion, the firm was “signposted … to a discretionary grant, of which we were not eligible for as we had too many employees”.

The letter closes by saying that the government is “disconnected from culture”, and adds: “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.”

The letter also highlights Skiddle’s current outlook amid COVID-19, which brought its income (98% ticket sales) to a halt. The firm said it is operating at a maximum of 15 per cent of its usual income and has lost around 20 employees and been forced to close one of its offices.

Two rounds of funding from the £1.57bn pot have been confirmed so far, with grants going to a mix of businesses operating in music, theatre, dance and other performance disciplines, as well as the visual arts and museums.

Dyer and Sebborn end their letter by writing: “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.”

A statement from Resident Advisor’s co-founder Nick Sabine, released last week, said: “We exist as an organisation to support electronic music culture. While we are deeply grateful to receive this lifeline, this is not a moment for celebration. The events caused by the pandemic continue to have dire consequences for the hundreds of thousands of people who give so much to keep our culture alive.”