Introduction and Overview
Impressively, having heard the views of experts as recently as 9 June, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published its first report into the impact of COVID-19 on 23 July. This is long and detailed.
This commentary restricts itself to the areas that will affect those working in or with an interest in the theatre industry.
Ignoring the associated sectors, section 3 covering Culture and the Creative Industries presents a pretty damning indictment of government inaction. This is particularly telling, given that the committee has a 6–5 Conservative majority including the Chair, Julian Knight.
The committee is certainly aware of the dangers hanging over the arts. “The COVID-19 crisis presents the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure, institutions and workforce in a generation.”
It raises a large number of significant concerns, many of which have already been covered in these pages over recent months.
There are severe worries about the future, with the prospect of large numbers of theatres disappearing forever, while workers in the industry are already departing in droves, uncertain about whether they will ever be able to work again at their chosen professions.
Urgent action is therefore required from government. “The performing arts need a sector-specific recovery deal that includes continued workforce support measures, including enhanced measures for freelancers and small companies”. Sadly, the relevant departments in Whitehall have so far been singularly lacking when it comes to any such commitments.
The committee welcomes but expresses concern regarding the £1.57 billion bailout package. There is a doubt as to whether the amount is adequate, criticism of the (lack of) speed with which it was announced and uncertainty about when it will become available and how it will be distributed. As a consequence, the report includes several suggestions with regard to other means of providing financial support.
There is also a demand that by 1 August, i.e. in just over a week, the government should publish “no earlier dates” for reopening. This will help the sector to plan.
Finally, the government is urged to investigate the possibility of finding technological solutions to the problems caused by social distancing and also to introduce or support comprehensive insurance cover.