Arts industry to receive £1.5bn lifeline, government announces

Kate Devlin
·3-min read
Theatres like the Old Vic in London remain closed while pubs and restaurants reopened this weekend: PA
Theatres like the Old Vic in London remain closed while pubs and restaurants reopened this weekend: PA

Theatres, independent cinemas and other arts organisations are to get a £1.5bn lifeline to help them stay in business while coronavirus forces them to remain closed.

The rescue package is expected to help world-famous cultural institutions like the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Mary Rose Trust.

Unveiling the plan, Boris Johnson said the money would help safeguard the arts for “future generations”.

Organisations that will be prioritised are understood to include the so-called “crown jewels” of the British arts, culture and heritage industries and those with special local or regional significance, as ministers proceed with their “levelling up” agenda.

As pubs and restaurants across the country were allowed to open their doors this weekend for the first time since March, many arts venues were forced to stay closed.

The government has been under increasing pressure to help the arts after warnings the industry would be brought to its knees without government intervention.

Prince Charles is among those to have questioned how many venues would survive the pandemic.

Now organisations including historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music venues, independent cinemas and others will all be able to access emergency grants and loans.

Ministers said the money was the largest ever one-off investment in UK culture.

In England around four-fifths of the support will be in the form of grants with the remainder in cheap repayable loans.

The cash injection comes ahead of a “mini-Budget” this week in which the chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to set out a target to cut VAT for a fixed period to boost consumer spending in some areas of the economy.

He is also expected to invest £111m to triple the number of traineeships in the UK.

Mr Johnson said the UK’s cultural industry was the “beating heart of this country”.

He added: “This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden, who pledged the government would not let the arts sector down, said the “massive investment shows our level of commitment”.

Mr Sunak said the industry was “critical” to keeping the economy thriving, employing more than 700,000 people.

This package includes £120m of capital investment to restart construction on infrastructure projects paused because of the pandemic.

Sir Nicholas Serota, the chairman of Arts Council England, said artists and creative organisations would “repay the faith that the government has shown” in them.

Alex Beard, the chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said the support was “vital” for the industry.

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said she welcomed the announcement but warned that for many it was “too little too late”.

“The government needs to ensure that this vital funding gets to those theatres and other organisations currently teetering on the brink, and fast,” she said, “especially those across the towns and small cities where live performance venues and other arts organisations are so valuable to local economies providing many interdependent jobs, particularly in hospitality.”

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