Matt Storey, partner at The White Storey, discusses supply chain, staff shortages, and rate increases…

Have you put your prices up? We did in January and felt bullish about it, even though we promptly lost a job as a result, causing the odd sphincter to quiver. We held our nerve and, of course, it was the right thing to do.

Whatever business you’re in, there are two schools of thought on how to go about raising prices – I’ve done both. You can either explain your reasons in advance to clients with meticulous care, which may prompt them to question, hesitate, and look for competitive rates elsewhere.

Or… you can simply put your rates up in small increments each year, in the knowledge that most will accept and understand while others won’t notice or will be too busy to care.

Someone did ask me how they should justify our increase when talking to their clients. The answer is easy: Everything costs more now.

In terms of simple human resourcing, people still struggle to grasp that large numbers have left our industry. The threadbare headcount continues to be ravaged by COVID – so we’re still grappling with absences at short notice. How many are legitimate reasons is another matter.

That scarcity is reflected throughout the supply chain as festivals return. Starved of turnover since 2019, many are increasing capacity to generate additional income, stretching on-site disciplines across the board. If all festivals follow this pattern, and we add-in the Queen’s Jubilee, Commonwealth Games and the belated “Festival of Brexit”, the ordeal of sourcing sufficient kit this summer will be far greater than in what used to pass for a normal year. Not forgetting that suppliers scaled back during the pandemic, giving everyone an even bigger mountain to climb.

Admittedly, increasing prices can take guts when balancing turnover with mouths to feed; the need for work can tempt you to accept contracts at any price. But how low can you go and still survive? If the last two years have shown me anything, it’s that once you hit zero, it can’t get worse. I’ve taken just two months’ salary out of our business since the pandemic started, but I’m still here.

This provides the grit to say no when a client requests a rate reduction. And the backbone to insist that it’s time people were paid more. It’s appalling that labour prices have barely moved since I joined the industry in the 90s – and we’re paying the toll for that now.

The expectation has always been that if you wanted to work in the creative industries, you’d have to put up with a pitiful wage for the privilege. But people entering the industry today aren’t prepared to grind for peanuts. They’re just not that hungry. In fact, they’ve got a sense of entitlement that says: “Nah. I don’t fancy that”. Or they claim that a runny nose is excuse enough not to turn up for work.

All of which means that for the industry to attract new blood with the right attitude we must be prepared to pay – and to charge – decent rates.

So, this time next year Rodney, either the chandelier will be in pieces on the floor, or we’ll have caught it. I don’t expect to be feasting on roasted swan in the first-class lounge, but I’d settle for a lesser waterfowl!