I recently toured the EU with a band as an LED technician, building the big screen backdrop and the two side screens for the camera relay. The tour played five cities and used seven articulated trucks full of lighting, sound and video equipment. All the equipment was rented from UK suppliers and the staff were mainly freelance technicians from the UK. Since Brexit, freelancers in this country have had to face a raft of new obstacles, if they want to work in the EU.
A1 certification to work in the EU
A number of factors come into play, even for a fairly short tour like this. All the techs had to apply for A1 certification, via HMRC. Those certificates are handed to the local promoter of the gig in each country and are proof that the techs pay national insurance (NI) and tax in the UK. Without them, the promoter would have had to hold back some of our wages as they would be liable for the tax and NI in the host country.
Acquiring an A1 certificate can be a drawn-out process. You give HMRC the dates of each gig and then all you can do is wait for them to issue the certificate. Since Covid, the lead time has expanded dramatically, It can now take anywhere from eight weeks up to six months.
A delay can mean that often, as happened in this case, the tour is over before we have received our certificates. Sometimes, we can give the application number to the promoter but they are beginning to crack down on this. I know of an artist who recently played a gig in France and had €19,000 withheld until their certification had been issued and shown to the local authorities. Not an insignificant amount considering the costs that have to be covered.
Like all UK citizens, since we left the EU, freelance technicians must ensure that they have adequate time left in their 90/180 day Schengen allowance to cover the tour. For me on this tour, that wasn’t a problem. But one of the other techs only had two days to spare. Any unexpected delay could have been disastrous. My next tour, however, will use 78 days of my permitted 90. If I am offered another EU tour of longer than 12 days before March next year, I will not be able to accept it.
As freelancers, we mainly go from one tour to another in the Schengen area. The 90/180 day rule is killing both our ability to earn a living and our contribution to the UK economy.
The dreaded carnet
Any equipment we take into the EU from the UK also needs certification – the dreaded carnet. A carnet is a document listing every single piece of equipment (including the necessary cables, tools and instruments) by its description, serial number and value. The total value is added up and a percentage of this value is given over as a bond that is held until the equipment returns to the UK. The carnet is used as a temporary importation document, guaranteeing that the equipment will not be sold in the country being visited and therefore no importation taxes are charged.
The carnet is kept by a designated person in the company (often the truck drivers) and has to be stamped at UK customs on exit, and stamped into the EU by customs at whichever port we enter. At the tour’s end, it’s stamped out of the EU and back into the UK. Custom officers on either side can demand to inspect the kit to make sure it matches the description on the carnet.
For large carnets, this can take a great deal of time and cause significant delay. Delays cost money. The daily cost of equipment rental can be tens of thousands of pounds and the schedule for a tour is usually very tight. There is little extra time available, as the equipment is moved between different venues in different cities or countries.
On our return from this tour, the truck carrying 12 tonnes of LED screens was held at UK customs. Subsequently, the screens were a day late returning to the supplier. The knock-on effects could have been significant – the cancellation of another major gig, for example. This happened to London band, White Lies, who were forced to cancel a live show in Paris at the last minute after their equipment was held up by exactly this sort of Brexit red tape.
One hell of a headache
The red tape that has beset the touring industries since Brexit and the end of our freedom of movement is making it almost impossible for artists to tour and still make money from their gigs.
I haven’t even mentioned other factors such as cites (a restriction on instruments that contain rare species in their construction), cabotage (a restriction on the movement of our touring trucks and the number of stops they can make) and issues with merchandise (limitations on the amount an artist can carry and rules on the country of origin).
All these factors add up to one hell of a headache for the touring industry.
The UK’s creative touring industry is genuinely world-leading but our dominance in the field has been massively eroded by the problems we face since Brexit. According to the Independent Society of Musicians, nearly half of UK musicians and allied workers have had less work in the EU since Brexit. More than a quarter have had no work in the EU at all.
All this means a big loss for the UK economy.
In 2019, the creative industries generated £116bn for the UK economy. Local pubs, restaurants, hotels and taxis all benefit from the touring economy. And enjoying live music in the company of your mates is good for your health and wellbeing too.
We must fight to save this industry and to encourage new bands and artist to tour the EU, to build their fan bases and continue producing fabulous live gigs that we can all enjoy.
What can I do?
Write to your MP. Demand that they ask the government to go back to the EU and negotiate a proper deal for creative touring.