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MU General Secretary Update

General Secretary Naomi Pohl looks at the challenges facing musicians this winter, and what the union is doing to support members.

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By Naomi Pohl Published: 08 February 2023 | 5:30 PM
Naomi Pohl speaking into a camera at MU Member Conference 2022.
Preparations are well underway for this year’s Delegate Conference, which will take place in Birmingham on 25 and 26 July. Image credit: The MU ©

We are already having a productive and busy 2023, continuing to represent MU members' interests fiercely to Government, employers and engagers. Here is a brief whistle-stop tour of our current priorities.

You’re invited to Delegate Conference 2023

Preparations are well underway for this year’s Delegate Conference, which will take place in Birmingham on 25 and 26 July. It is an important part of union democracy, many would say it is the most important, and information about how to put forward a motion or come to Conference as a delegate will be available soon. Please consider both.

We hope that delegations will arrive on Monday 24 July for their traditional pre-Conference meetings, and Conference itself will finish at lunchtime on Wednesday 26 July to allow time for members to travel home. Our recent Members' Conference on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion set a high standard for accessibility at MU events and we plan to maintain it.

More details about transport and accommodation, as well as information about proposed rule changes for Conference to debate and vote on, will go out by post in February. We will also provide access information as soon as possible, and members can send us any questions via their Regional Offices.

Why everyone needs to take the Musicians' Census

Please take part in the Musicians' Census, which we are running with Help Musicians. We want to count how many musicians there are in the UK and develop a deeper understanding of what it’s like to be a musician in 2023.

The Musicians’ Census is open to all musicians in the UK who earn an income from music, or plan to earn an income from music in future, and has the backing of lots of fantastic members including Iona Fyfe, Linton Stephens and Maxine Kwok.

We plan to repeat the Census every three to five years to get a regular in-depth snapshot of who UK musicians are and what they do, and track changes and trends so we can make sure the union is providing the support you need and might need in future.

Supporting the union’s freelancer members

Freelance musicians are crucial to the live music sector and should be valued, paid appropriately, paid on time, and treated with respect.

We are planning an industrial campaign this year focused on freelancers' terms, conditions and dignity at work. Insights from the Musicians’ Census will help with this, and we will be following up with more information in the spring. Please make sure you have opted in to receive news emails from the MU so that you get the updates.

Solidarity with people on strike across the UK

The MU stands with public sector union colleagues who are striking to protect jobs and improve pay and conditions, and we join the TUC in fighting the Government’s Anti Strike Bill which is progressing through Parliament.

I was delighted to represent the MU alongside Alex Gascoine, Chair of the MU’s Executive Committee, and orchestral members. Members and staff also took part in events in Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Glasgow, Nottingham, Worcester and other locations. You can find coverage on the MU’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.


In relation, we are also hopeful that Equity’s pay negotiations will be successful. We will work together with Equity, BECTU and the wider trade union movement to fight for improvements in pay and conditions up and down the country.

ACE Funding Decisions 

The recent Arts Council England funding announcement was an attack on many vital cultural institutions and the MU is working hard to support members affected. Towards the end of last year we attended, and I spoke at, two protests organised with Equity and BECTU, and while the focus was mainly on English National Opera, I spoke about all those orchestras, opera and ballet companies in England and Wales who received cuts in my speech.

I have met with Arts Council England twice as well as briefing the Labour Party via Keir Starmer's office. In total, we have briefed over 70 MPs and Peers and a number of very critical interventions have been made in Parliament as a result. The news about ENO's Lottery funding is positive, but of course only offers a one-year reprieve. 

It is also important to acknowledge that many fantastic organisations that members work with received new or additional funding in Arts Council England’s National Portfolio announcement. This is good news.

But taking away funding from opera, and from music organisations like Britten Sinfonia and other arts organisations such as Oldham Coliseum and theatres that support new writing, only serves to make the arts more exclusive and flies in the face of a true levelling up agenda.

Fighting for arts funding – and real levelling up

We have also raised the issue in meetings at the TUC to garner the support of larger unions. Like those unions currently striking or balloting for strike action, musicians are dependent on public money and impacted by the Treasury's tight grip on the purse strings.

Given that the ACE cuts have come about as a result of persistent Government reductions to arts funding, the MU has written to previous Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan for an urgent meeting twice. We have had no response so far, but we will be writing to the new Culture Secretary shortly.


We are very influential within Labour, however, and our Head of Government Relations Isabelle Gutierrez and I met with Shadow Culture Secretary, Lucy Powell, recently to discuss how Labour could help influence the current government and how a Labour arts funding strategy could be put together for the future. She is very committed to the creative economy and arts organisations helping post-Covid recovery of town and city centres, so in the longer term we are hopeful of better support from a Labour government. We also met Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor, which was positive. She and Lucy understand our arguments about the pot not being big enough overall. 

Holding major labels to their Music Streaming Inquiry commitments

Work towards a deal which provides for better remuneration and guaranteed royalties for all musicians from music streaming continues. I gave evidence at a DCMS Select Committee meeting prior to Christmas, where I explained that there has not been enough progress and we need a Government-convened negotiation with the industry urgently.


I also visited the Nordic Musicians' Unions earlier this month where we exchanged notes on where we are with music streaming in our individual territories. Our work in the UK is leading the way and it is encouraging to see the international solidarity and support for our Fix Streaming campaign.

Protecting your rights as workers post-Brexit

Brexit continues to be a major problem for touring musicians, and we have successfully raised awareness but still need a better deal. The UK's relationship with the EU has been severely damaged by the Conservatives pursuing a hard Brexit.

We are also concerned about the EU Retained Law Bill, which could repeal 4000 pieces of legislation derived in the EU and covering everything from workers' rights to carnets to maternity rights.

The MU is lobbying against it with colleagues in the TUC and Labour, and we urge members to write to their MPs to oppose the Bill.

A small win for Music Hub funding in England 

We had a recent win by persuading the Department for Education to roll Music Hub funding in England on for another year at current levels. In my General Secretary campaign, I promised that we will launch a music education campaign during my 5-year term as General Secretary and we are already working on this.

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