Government support for arts widely criticised as ‘inadequate’

·7-min read
Live events (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)
Live events (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)

The Government’s newly-announced support for the arts has been widely criticised by the sector as “inadequate” and “bordering on the insulting”.

The Treasury announced on Tuesday that cultural organisations in England can access a further £30 million funding during the winter via the culture recovery fund.

The £1.57 billion CRF was launched in July 2020 with the objective of protecting Britain’s cultural, arts and heritage institutions.

Groups criticised the extent of the support and the decision to distribute it through the fund, saying a system of emergency support packages is instead needed.

The announcement follows a string of cancelled theatre performances, with The Lion King and Life Of Pi among the West End shows having to dim their lights due to Covid-enforced staff shortages, as well as a fall in attendance at grassroots live music venues.

Mark Davyd, founder and chief executive of Music Venue Trust (MVT), said: “We will need to see further details on the £30 million package announced to support the cultural sector.

“Our initial response is that this funding seems detached from the reality.

“If correct, it would be inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem – we note that grassroots music venues are not even mentioned in the statement despite DCMS having all the evidence they need that losses in this sector alone will run to £22 million by end of January.”

An additional statement from the MVT said: “While we welcome any announcement from Treasury that recognises the very serious situation facing grassroots music venues, and other cultural and hospitality spaces, operators and staff, regrettably today’s announcement appears to be a woefully inadequate response to the reality of the position.

“Through a local authority distribution process, the Treasury appears to be offering grassroots music venues up to £6,000 (if they meet certain criteria). This sum is intended to mitigate losses for an as-yet unknown period in which business has not just fallen, it has completely collapsed.”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, described the newly-announced support as “far too little”.

He said: “Businesses are failing, people are losing their livelihoods and the industry is crippled.

“Mixed messaging, coupled with additional restrictions, have had a catastrophic impact on our sector over the last two weeks.

“At this critical point, we need strong leadership and a clear pathway from Government with a long-term strategy for new Covid variants.

“The open/close strategy is crucifying businesses. Every pound of help is much needed. But this package is far too little and borders on the insulting.”

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan welcomed the announcement of mandatory grants.

He said: “The additional mandatory grants of up to £6,000 are also welcome and will be particularly helpful to smaller theatres.

“We hope that both funds are distributed as quickly as possible to help protect theatres.

“Theatres across the country are already struggling with shows being cancelled due to infections and falling ticket sales, as audiences follow Government advice to be cautious, so this support is very much needed.”

Paul W Fleming, general secretary of Equity, the trade union for performing arts workers, said: “The lack of financial support for the creative workforce in today’s announcement from the Chancellor is a shocking example of Government negligence when Equity members are staring into a winter of cancelled shows, bookings and performances.

“Many producers, workplaces and artists are ineligible for Cultural Recovery Funding.

“Instead of another inadequate, vague, headline deal for bosses and buildings, we need an urgent plan to protect all those working in theatre and entertainment industries during this critical Christmas season.”

He said these should include a new furlough scheme for performers and stage management, increasing statutory sick pay and extending it to self-employed taxpayers, and targeted support for creative team members, entertainers and variety artists through new grants.

Head of theatre workers union Bectu, Philippa Childs, said the support would arrive too slowly if it was distributed through the CRF.

She said: “The Culture Recovery Fund is not equipped to deal with the rapid response necessary to alleviate the current Covid crisis for theatres and live events.

“It is focused on buildings not people, is too cumbersome and too slow.

“We need an emergency support package for our members who are facing another Christmas of work cancellations and uncertainty.”

Greg Parmley, chief executive of Live, which represents music industry venues and the entertainment sector including companies, artists and backstage workers, said: “We welcome the news that the Government has started to deliver much-needed financial support, but with the live music sector teetering on the brink, the package falls short of the urgent cash injection businesses need to keep them afloat.

“The amount of money pales in comparison to the mounting losses faced by the sector and the process will add layers of complexity at a time when businesses are already struggling with skeleton staff rotas and huge losses.”

Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, called for further support for performers.

While additional money is welcome, we must also give the entertainment sector the best possible chance of being up and running on its own. Without more clarity this will not be possible

Julian Knight, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

He said: “This is a particularly busy time for our members and many musicians will have been relying on the festive period and the new year to provide much-needed funds following the devastating effects of lockdown and the well-publicised difficulties.

“It is absolutely crucial to their survival that the Government recognises the economic abyss that our world-class players, performers, writers and teachers are facing. They need support and they need it now.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said on Twitter: “This is vital support that won’t just help protect our cherished theatres, museums & heritage sites, but the tens of thousands of people who work in them.

“It’s important that we give as much support as we can to creative institutions and ensure that they are still there, standing strong to keep people employed, informed and entertained.”

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman Julian Knight welcomed further support but called for clarity on the likelihood of an imminent lockdown.

He said: “More crucial still will be giving clarity for what the likely outlook for Covid restrictions is in the short and medium term.

“You cannot simply start and stop a production or tour with a few days notice. They need to be planned and are dependent on a reasonable assessment of whether enough people can see it to be financially viable.

“While additional money is welcome, we must also give the entertainment sector the best possible chance of being up and running on its own. Without more clarity this will not be possible.”

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