Concerns and Proposals

The Committee emphasised the importance of the various issues by printing their conclusions in bold type.

The COVID 19 crisis presents the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure, institutions and workforce in a generation. The loss of performing arts institutions, and the vital work they do in communities by spreading the health and education benefits of cultural engagement, would undermine the aims of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and Arts Council England’s next 10-year strategy, and reverse decades of progress in cultural provision and diversity and inclusion that we cannot afford to lose. In addition to the emergency funding already announced, the performing arts need a sector-specific recovery deal that includes continued workforce support measures, including enhanced measures for freelancers and small companies; clear, if conditional, timelines for reopening, and technological solutions to enable audiences to return without social distancing; and long-term structural support to rebuild audience figures and investment in time of economic uncertainty.

On the funding front,

We welcome the Government’s commitment to provide £1.57 billion in funding for our cultural and heritage sectors; however, whether it is enough to safeguard the cultural sector will ultimately depend on how long institutions remain closed or subject to social distancing, and we are concerned that freelancers and small companies will continue to fall through the gaps of Government support. It is also regrettable that it took so long for the package to be announced, as the uncertainty inevitably led to closures and redundancies in the cultural sector that might otherwise have been avoided.

The Government must learn from the shortcomings of previous support schemes, including those for charities and self-employed people, to ensure this package is tailored to the unique characteristics of the cultural sector and its workers, and reaches them promptly. The Government must recognise the interconnected nature of the cultural sector and should not restrict support to well established, high profile, institutions: it is essential that cultural freelancers and small companies in the creative industries supply chain are also eligible for direct support. To reduce uncertainty, the Government must publish eligibility criteria and application guidance as soon as possible, and ensure that the funding reaches recipients no later than October 2020.

Supporting proposals from within the industry, it also stated that

To further combat the negative effects of closure, and to stimulate long-term recovery, the Government should introduce other fiscal measures. We recommend the cut in VAT on ticket sales for theatre and live music be extended beyond January 2021, for the next three years. The Government should increase Theatre Tax Relief to 50% for the next three years and broaden the definition of ‘core expenditure’ in line with the industry’s proposals. It should introduce a Music Tax Relief, modelled on existing reliefs such as the Orchestra Tax Relief. The Government should also develop a system to save ‘Assets of Cultural Value’ along the lines of the regime for ‘Assets of Community Value’. This would allow a moratorium on the sale of a building while stakeholders seek an alternative bidder to maintain the asset as a cultural business. The Government should also build on recent ‘Agent of Change’ planning reform to protect cultural assets by tightening planning regulations around change of use from venues or music studios to residential and other developments.

Lessons must be learnt from Arts Council England’s emergency funding when it comes to distributing the additional Government support. Support cannot be limited to organisations with a track record of public funding. Although recipients must be able to demonstrate they will use public monies appropriately, such a restrictive criterion risks excluding vital parts of the cultural ecology, including whole sectors that have historically had less engagement with funding bodies such as contemporary music, circus and amateur theatre. In allocating additional sector funding, the Government must ensure support reaches cultural sectors and institutions that are in need, irrespective of whether they have previously received subsidy. It must also ensure an equitable distribution of cultural resources across all parts of the UK—north and south, rural and urban—and support for BAME and disabled artists and audiences.

There are also questions about the efficacy and adequacy of the financial bailout.

Since lockdown began, we and many others in the cultural sector have been warning DCMS about the challenges of resuming live performance. The £1.57 billion of support from Government will only tide the cultural sector over for so long and will not be sufficient to compensate for a loss of the Christmas season. The Cultural Renewal Taskforce has been slow to demonstrate meaningful progress. The fact it was only established two months after lockdown means valuable planning time for the return of live performance has been lost. Moreover, telling venues they can reopen with just a few days’ or weeks’ notice does not address the lead times for performance, the challenges of social distancing or the concerns about audience behaviours. To provide more certainty and allow for forward planning the Government should, no later than 1 August, publish ‘no earlier than’ dates for stage 5 of its plan to reopen performing arts venues.

We are concerned that innovative technology-based solutions are being explored across the theatre, sports and festivals sectors without full collaboration between them. This is exactly the issue the Cultural Renewal Taskforce was set up to address. The Cultural Renewal Taskforce must co-ordinate cross-sector work on technological solutions for mass gatherings, ensuring the sports and entertainment sectors work together, alongside NHS Test and Trace, to develop a universal, technological solution to enable the safe return of ticket holders to events.

Finally, there is a justifiable concern about the provision of insurance.

Government must address the urgent need for the UK’s cultural industries to be covered by adequate insurance. Without it, efforts to resume filming, touring and live performance are doomed to failure. Alongside working with the insurance industry to introduce a long-term pandemic reinsurance scheme, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should establish an emergency fund to guarantee coverage for TV and film productions, stage productions, concerts and tours interrupted or abandoned due to COVID-19.