Arts sector workers face ‘grim future still’, Chancellor told

UK Theatre said without targeted support for the workforce there would be further job losses and redundancies.


British theatre is facing “decimation” with the Chancellor’s new measures offering “little to help”, an industry body has warned.

Rishi Sunak said new support, which will replace the furlough scheme, is aimed at protecting “viable” roles.

Many people in theatre, including composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, have said it is economically “impossible” to run theatres with social distancing.

Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said the Chancellor’s announcement did “little to help the theatre and performing arts sector where the majority of venues and productions remain closed due to Covid”.

“Our previously viable and world-beating sector is facing decimation as with no income, organisations cannot bring their staff back to work,” he said.

“Without targeted and vitally needed support for the workforce in this sector, we will see further job losses and redundancies.

“While the extension of the self-employed scheme is welcome, with the amount offered reduced to 20%, thousands will face real financial peril.”

Conservative MP Julian Knight, who is chair of the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) select committee, said he welcomed the “economy-wide intervention”.

But “it still leaves many hundreds of thousands of workers in events, arts and cultural parts of the economy with a grim future”, he said.

“The truth is, three times as many people in these sectors are currently on furlough than the national average, which suggests that the job support scheme may not be able to stop unprecedented redundancies and many organisations from facing extinction.”

A spokesman for the Royal Albert Hall said the scheme could not “significantly help organisations like ours”.

He said: “It is admirable that the Chancellor understands that workers continue to need support, but we do not think this scheme can significantly help organisations like ours.

The Royal Albert Hall in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

“The Hall’s staff are much needed in the long-term, but as we are not yet able to open at full capacity, we will not have enough work for them to meet the threshold of the new job support scheme.

“With the JRS (Job Retention Scheme) ending next month, time is of the essence, and we have devised a structure that enables us to keep our staff on the books while they are not working so that we are able to be agile and reopen as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“Today’s announcement came as we were on the cusp of telling our staff about our scheme on Monday, and we do not think today’s announcement substantially changes our plans.”

Music Venue Trust, which represents grassroots music venues, said the new measures were “built around the premise of returning to work”.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has said it is impossible to operate theatres with social distancing
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has said it is impossible to operate theatres with social distancing (Nigel French/PA)

It added: “The Government has made it clear that it does not believe that the time is right for the live music industry to return to work …

“The live music industry faces a crisis which is not of its own making. It is vital that it survives this crisis.

“The challenge is manageable with sensible, targeted interventions by the Government. Music Venue Trust awaits the outcome of the (£1.57 billion) Culture Recovery Fund to assess if that is the action required.”

Tom Kiehl, acting chief executive of industry body UK Music, said there was “little to give comfort” to the music industry’s self-employed workers.

He said: “We welcome the extension of Government support to safeguard jobs beyond the end of the existing furlough scheme.

“It is good to see the extension of the 15% VAT cut and the breathing space given to businesses facing VAT bills through the New Payment Scheme.

“However, there appears to be little to give comfort to the many talented people in the music industry who are key to our entrepreneurial future.

“We need special arrangements and sector specific support for the music industry where 72% of the workforce are self-employed until our industry can get back on its feet.”

The Association of Independent Festivals’ chief executive Paul Reed criticised what he called “a broad brush approach”, saying “we urgently need targeted support”.

He said: “While the extension to the VAT cut is welcome, these measures are not even a band aid for a sector that remains severely wounded.

“Festivals support 85,000 jobs in the UK and our most recent member surveys suggest redundancies of at least 50% across the sector, some of which have unfortunately already taken place.”

Creative Industries Federation’s chief executive Caroline Norbury said the “emergency measures … will support many organisations, workers and freelancers in our sector that are still unable to operate at full capacity due to the pandemic”.

But “many of the sector’s two million self-employed workers … will continue to fall through the gaps in Government support,” she added.

“Many of these people have seen all of their work dry up overnight and it remains vital that they are supported as a matter of urgency.”

Musicians’ Union general secretary Horace Trubridge said there are a “huge number of outstanding questions to be answered” following the Chancellor’s announcement.

The union is calling on its members to ask their MPs to press the Chancellor for “specific support for musicians who are disproportionately affected by the crisis”, he added.

Arts bodies are waiting to find out what funding they will receive from the Government’s £1.57 billion rescue package.

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