After a roundtable with live events cultural organisations, Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell MP is calling for further action from government to support the culture and live events sector as businesses and workers find themselves in no man’s land. Faced with mass cancellations well into 2022 the uncertainty around the latest wave of the pandemic and indecisive action by government is hitting the sector hard, with government support for culture not working and unlikely to reach some of those hardest hit, providing a sticking plaster at best.
The Chancellor and Culture Secretary were missing in action for days, with the Prime Minister still too weak to grip the situation.
A massive drop in demand, cancellations and illness caused by Omicron is having a significant impact on theatre, cultural and sporting activities. Self-isolation of cast and staff is causing cancellations of performances and a marked decrease in audience confidence is leading to refunds and exchanges. Uncertainty about the New Year is putting at risk ticket sales and events well into 2022 at what is usually the busiest time of year. Many regional and local theatre productions rely on pantomimes and Christmas concerts to drive business at this time of year with some taking between 30-40 per-cent of their annual income over the Christmas period.
Analysis shows that turnover for arts and culture businesses was down £4.3 billion in 2020 compared with 2019 with this sector needing to make nearly £6 billion in the run up to Christmas to equal takings in 2019, before the pandemic.
While the top up for the Culture Recovery Fund is welcome, Labour is calling on the government to take action to ensure that this support is effective, and reaches those most in need, as well as making changes to give confidence to the sector and audiences going forward. That should include:
- Widening the scope of the Culture Recovery Fund Emergency Resource Grant so that previous recipients, commercial productions, and individuals can apply;
- Speeding up payment through the Culture Recovery Fund so that the self-employed, and freelancers in the culture sector can have their contracts honoured;
- An urgent Review of the Live Events Reinsurance Scheme which is seen across the sector as a failure. It is extremely limited in scope and very expensive, and as a result hardly any live events or theatre productions have taken it out leaving them in no man’s land when it comes to insurance against the broader impact of Covid. The current scheme only covers full national lockdown and doesn’t cover staff or artists’ illness, or changes in restrictions such as social distancing which have a significant impact on the viability of cultural activities.
Shadow Culture Secretary, Lucy Powell MP said:
“Pantos and other cultural events at Christmas are great British traditions, that are now at risk as many productions and live events have seen a dramatic drop off in demand and many, many cancellations due to Covid. The government needs to take further action to support the sector before we see the demise of many of our treasured theatres and venues across the country and a nightmare before Christmas for freelancers and workers for whom this should be their boom time of the year.
“Labour is calling for the Culture Recovery Fund eligibility criteria to be opened up so businesses and workers don’t fall through the cracks, and for the government to review the Reinsurance Scheme which as designed is totally inadequate. Ministers have lost their grip, and it is theatres and workers across our towns and cities who are paying the price.”