Our creative industries are internationally renowned and economically successful. The sector is worth £111.7bn and employs more than 2 million people. It is an industry that I have worked in and been part of before becoming an MP so know it very well.
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 finally been announced to support theatres, venues and cultural organisations across the UK. As Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland myself and colleagues raised the issue of sector specific support packages at Scotland Questions on 1st July
However, unfortunately it is too little too late for the theatres that have already announced closures and made redundancies. We now need more detail on how this funding will be broken down. It 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.
The creative sector has been one of the hardest hit by coronavirus. Those employed in the sector will have little or no income once the Job Retention Scheme concludes leading to thousands of job losses. The six week consultation period on redundancies and the end of the first phase of the JRS means that those are starting already. The nature of employment in the sector means that many who work in it have fallen outside the UK Government’s income support schemes. Thousands of talented cultural industry and media freelancers have therefore been excluded from the financial support provided by the UK Government.
With no certainty over when live performances can safely resume, I believe the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme must be extended to those in the creative sector who cannot work while venues stay closed. I also believe the UK Government must act urgently to support the self-employed and freelancers in the creative industries who have been excluded from financial support.
It is therefore worrying that the Government continues to apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the furlough scheme. I believe a sector-specific approach should include an extension beyond October.
Public health and culture are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scotland has separate lockdown regulations and guidance, with businesses reopening at different times and in different ways.
Theatres, concert halls and music venues remain closed in Scotland and Wales, but the guidance in each country says it may be permissible for performances to be broadcast – without an audience and if health guidelines are observed. In England, these businesses have been able to reopen from 4 July (for rehearsal, pre-production and broadcast), but live performance with an audience is not permitted.
The £1.57bn from the UK Government to support arts, culture and heritage businesses is made up of £880 million in direct grants for England and £270 million of repayable loans. The consequentials for Scotland are £97 million and £59 million for Wales.
On 3 July, the Scottish Government announced a £10 million fund to support arts venues. The Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund is intended to help venues which cannot yet reopen to their audiences due to the ongoing impact of coronavirus. On 6 July they announced the Scottish share of the UK Government funding of £97 million but as yet, almost 4 weeks later, we still do not know how and when this will be paid to organisations. The Scottish Government was too slow to provide support, with job cuts already been announced by Scottish theatres, including the Royal Lyceum, Pitlochry Theatre and Perth Theatre.
Colleagues and I will continue to pressure the Scottish Government to make sure this funding gets into the hands of those who need it urgently.