A road map with no details, is not a road map

Are you one of 34 million people who enjoy theatre every year? If so, please read on...

Like everyone in our industry I welcome the statement finally issued by DCMS last night and their proposed road map for the arts: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/jun/25/government-publishes-roadmap-for-englands-theatres

However, it is infuriatingly vague. Every usable road map at least has distances and some detail. This has virtually nothing to work with.

The stages are helpful, but to be honest it is what we have all already been talking about. There are no workable timelines, dates, audience numbers, advice for front of house provision, details for rehearsals, let alone details of any vital strategic financial rescue packages (unlike those made already in Europe).

Once again, this feels like a half-thought out reaction to a very real and pressing crisis for our sector. It is the continuation of a vacuum of info, advice and help from UK Government, that we are having to work in.

Our sector is on the brink of collapse. That sounds dramatic but it's true. It’s not a question of if, sadly it’s now a question of when. Some 300,000 people work in the arts, 70% of them are freelancers. There is a vast eco-system that also extends beyond the stage, including tech companies and box office systems, hospitality and catering supply businesses, printers, haulage firms, advertising agencies… the list is very long.

Put simply, the arts industry is not an ‘add-on’ to our society; it is core part of it, and financially more than plays its part:

  • For every £1 invested in the arts, the sector returns £5
  • London theatres generate £133 million in VAT (2018)
  • £1.28 billion in ticket sales nationwide are generated
  • For every £1 spent at the theatre, £3 is spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel within the local economy
  • Supporting local communities, providing social hubs, education centres and meeting places, reaching out to the old, young and disadvantaged.

Oliver Dowden (Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport), says that theatre is “the soul of our nation and a lynchpin of our world beating creative industries” but so far his and DCMS response has been woefully short and this current statement is almost meaningless.

UK Theatre and SOLT have been lobbying for an action plan, and slowly talks are happening, but action from DCMS is required now; the sector cannot survive with in the current situation. To quote from UK Theatre/SOLT's open letter to the Prime Minister:

"The fundamental issue, is that in response to the government/scientific advice, theatres and their associated work simply cannot operate whilst a socially distanced environment is rightly in place. Practically it means that the sector would need to operate at around 20% capacity, which no business can survive with. Theatre, in general, must work on at least 50%-70% capacity."

The sector is not looking for a hand-out, but a hand-up. Here's UK Theatre/SOLT's recommendations:

Group 1

  • Safeguard the strength and UK-wide impact of the Sector through an Emergency Rescue Fund and a Cultural Investment Participation Scheme, and the protection of Local Authority Leisure Budgets.

Group 2

  • Sustain the workforce through a sectoral extension of the Job Retention Scheme at 80% until at least October; and an extension or replacement of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. This will also protect the wider ecology of theatre, and the thousands of small companies across the UK that allow the Sector to function.
  • Catalyse the recovery including temporary modifications to the Theatre Production Tax Relief for three years, and other measures which would ease the tax burden in the short term and allow for a stronger return to an income generative position.
  • Review insurance and liability policy in light of the new risks of re-opening, to allow access by the Sector to appropriate insurance. Currently, only 12% of organisations in the Sector believe they would be able to secure insurance.

So far the sector has heard nothing from the government about how it intends to help, whilst zoos for example last week were awarded £100m of funding. If this government values the arts in any way, its contribution to our daily lives, and the cultural exports it prides itself on promoting abroad, a strategic and long-term rescue resolution must be offered. 

How can you help? If you have watched any TV recently... love live music... adore dance... if you're one of those 34 million people I mentioned at the beginning, PLEASE engage with this.

Write to your local MP, include your address, urge them to support and lobby for urgent help. Find you MP here https://members.parliament.uk/members/Commons

Theatres are closing on a weekly basis; people's livelihoods are on the line; invaluable skills and community resources stand to be lost for a long time.

The arts will survive, it has for thousands of years, but it will be a very different landscape if nothing is done to help it NOW.


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