Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images – The empty auditorium of the London Coliseum, home of English National Opera ENO, remains closed.
Most UK venues will only open once there’s clarification on distance and safety guidelines.
In an analysis of the UK government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, the country’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) finds that the needs of the sectors it represents haven’t been met.
After establishing that the “Covid-19 crisis presents biggest threat to UK’s cultural infrastructure, institutions and workforce in a generation,” the DCMS concludes that “Government has consistently failed to recognize scale of challenge facing culture, sport and tourism.”
MPs working for the DCMS feel like their’ work has been “hampered by the Department’s lack of spending power and a fundamental misunderstanding across Government of the needs, structures and vital social contribution of sectors such as the creative industries.”
The report states that the DCMS remains one of the smallest government departments by budget and staffing, despite DCMS sectors as a whole contributing more than £224 billion ($285 billion) or 11.7% of Gross Value Added (GVA), to the UK economy in 2018.
Peter Summers/Getty Images – Britain’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
Arriving at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London,n July 21.
The department has also seen one of the highest turnover of Secretaries of State of any UK government department, with Oliver Dowden as ninth in the role since May 2010.
The UK government has been announcing various financial aid and compensation schemes for the sector’s workforce, however, as professionals from the sector have been pointing out, the diverse, nimble and largely independent cultural industries operate outside of traditional structures and therefore usually under the radar of government.
Case in point: festivals weren’t mentioned when the government announced a £1.57 billion ($1.96 billion) rescue fund, despite contributing an amount larger than that to the UK economy each year.
Businesses that don’t have a track record of public funding seem to have been overlooked, and the country’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has pointed out, that many of the manufacturing, construction and logistics companies, which are directly supporting the creative industry, fear they will not be categorised as “cultural organisations” and therefore not be eligible for government grants and loans.
In the latest DCMS report, the departments Committee Chair Julian Knight MP said the £1.57 billion support package has come too late for many.
“We are witnessing the biggest threat to our cultural landscape in a generation,” he stated, “The failure of the government to act quickly has jeopardized the future of institutions that are part of our national life and the livelihoods of those who work for them.
– Julian Knight
Member of Parliament
“Our report points to a department that has been treated as a ‘Cinderella’ by government when it comes to spending, despite the enormous contribution that the DCMS sectors make to the economy and job creation. We can see the damaging effect that has had on the robustness and ability of these areas to recover from the Covid crisis.
“The £1.57 bn support is welcome but for many help has come too late. We urge the government to act on our recommendations, to recognize the value these sectors provide and imagine how much bleaker the outcome for all without their survival.”
With cultural sectors relying largely on freelancers and self-employed, MPs call for an urgent review of existing schemes with tailored action to address individual sector needs.
70% of theaters and production companies are at risk of going out of business by the end of the year, with more than £300 million lost in box office revenue in the first 12 weeks of lockdown, the report finds.
Grassroots music venues were also hit with estimates that 93% face permanent closure, as many are unable to meet commercial rent demands. 90% of all festivals will have been cancelled this year.
The DCMS has come up with a list of key recommendations, if any of these developments are to be countered:
– Sector-specific recovery deal for performing arts 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.
– “Government should introduce flexible, sector specific versions of the CJRS and SEISS guaranteed for the creative industries until their work and income returns to sustainable levels. Any such measures should account for the differences in timeframes for the easing Covid-19 restrictions across the four nations. Support for the self-employed, in particular, should be urgently reviewed and amended so that it covers people who have been excluded to date.
– “Cut in VAT on ticket sales for theatre and live music is extended beyond January 2021, for the next three years. The Government should extend Theatre Tax Relief to 50% for the next three years and introduce a Music Tax Relief.”
The UK government just announced that indoor performances would be able to return, Aug. 1, if capacities are adjusted so that distance can be maintained.
The Report notes that telling venues they can reopen with just a few days’ or weeks’ notice does not address the lead times for performance, the challenges of distancing people or the concerns about audience behaviors.
More key recommendations therefore include:
– “Government should publish a ‘no earlier than’ date for stage five of its plan to reopen performing arts venues.
– “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.”
The report also contains recommendations regarding the sports and tourism sectors, which are also facing severe financial challenges.
The full report can be read here