On Sunday night, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a £1.57bn funding boost for the arts and culture sector to sustain it through the coronavirus crisis.
The creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories, but they are also among those hit hardest by the impact of coronavirus. According to the Office for National Statistics, 65% of businesses in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors were closed in early June and not intending to re-open soon. Of those continuing to trade, 64% said the outbreak of coronavirus had seen a decrease in their turnover of more than 50%.
The Culture Secretary’s intervention is therefore welcome, and will be a huge relief to many treasured institutions up and down the country. But in recent weeks we’ve already seen venues like the Royal Exchange in Manchester being forced to make drastic job cuts, with other venues going under entirely. I am disappointed that it has taken the Government until now to announce the support, when for so many it’s already too late.
Now, it’s critical to get the money to where it’s desperately required, and that means ensuring it’s not just the biggest and most famous institutions who benefit. There will be the temptation to focus on saving globally renowned institutions in London, but every smaller city or town lucky enough to have a theatre or live music venue must be helped to keep it. We are yet to have the details of how the package will be distributed, but Labour will press the Government to distribute the resources fairly and according to need.
We are told the funds are likely to be released this autumn, by which point the sector may have suffered more closures and cuts. We are therefore asking the Government to make provisions to reverse the job cuts that have already happened. We also need to keep the pressure on the Government to work with the sector towards a date when venues will once again be able to open at full capacity. And if it still can’t reopen after 6 months, the Chancellor must extend the Treasury schemes until the Government says that it can.
I remain disappointed that the Government is yet to announce a plan to support freelancers, who make up 70% of the workforce in theatre alone. As someone who used to be a self-employed worker in the music industry, I understand the problems that many freelancers are facing at the current time, and sympathise with the desperate situation facing many in the arts, entertainment and media industries.
The Government has not shown a proper understanding of the nature of work in this sector. Many in arts, entertainment and media jobs are on a series of short-term PAYE contracts, have been self-employed for less than a year, operate through limited companies, or have portfolio work through both direct employment and self-employment.
Many often highly-skilled creative professionals have therefore fallen outside of any of the Treasury’s income support schemes and received no help at all. A survey by Bectu found that only half of its creative industry workers had been able to access support from the Government. We must not allow these individuals to continue to fall through the gaps.
The Government must look again at the concerns and proposed solutions coming those in the creative industries who are excluded from the support it offers. I have raised this in Parliament in recent weeks, and have joined the “Excluded UK” All Party Parliamentary Group to advocate for the many workers left out of government economic support, including creative freelancers.