I have recently received many messages of concern from constituents about the impact of COVID-19 on theatres and the wider creative industries in the UK. This has been particularly concerning in light of the Royal Exchange announcing that 65% of their permanent roles could be made redundant without Government support.
We have known since the beginning of lockdown that the performing arts sector will be one of the last to fully reopen because of the difficulty of operating in line with social distancing measures.
I have consistently called on the UK Government to provide a sector-specific support package for our world-leading cultural sector.
I therefore welcome the much-needed investment of £1.57 billion that has now been announced to support the arts, culture and heritage industries across the UK.
However, unfortunately this is too little too late for the theatres that have already announced closures and made redundancies. The UK Government next needs to confirm whether its support package will be used to reverse job cuts. We also need more detail urgently on how the funding will be broken down, when it will get to organisations, and the criteria for applying.
The money must reach theatres teetering on the brink fast – especially those across the towns and small cities where venues and arts organisations are so vital to local economies and provide many interdependent jobs. It is vital this funding does not just go to the biggest venues. As well as protecting the big names such as the Royal Exchange, every town and city with a theatre must also keep this precious part of the local economy.
The creative sector has been one of the hardest hit by coronavirus. Theatres need a clear plan for when live performances can safely resume. Until then, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme should continue for those who cannot work while venues stay closed. I would also like the Government to publish the health and scientific evidence which says the public can sit in an aeroplane for hours on end but not in a theatre for two hours.
Furthermore, it is disappointing freelancers have been overlooked yet again.
Thousands of highly specialist, creative people – musicians, performers and other professionals – have been excluded from the Treasury support schemes since the start of the pandemic. I am concerned the Government does not understand the nature of work in this sector, which is why it must not take a one-size-fits-all approach.
I will continue to press for the unique challenges faced by our theatres and creative industries to be addressed, and I will stand up for the thousands of highly specialist, creative people who have fallen through the gaps of the existing Treasury schemes.