Government finds £1.57 billion to save UK arts

London theatre news: Monday 6 July 2020

Coronavirus - Funding - Theatres

At last ... the government finally stumps-up £1.57 billion to protect Britain’s world-class cultural, arts and heritage institutions.
Image of Culture secretaray and quote about funding for arts

Image courtesy DCMS

Last night the government finally outlined its long-overdue support package for the arts in the UK in response to the crippling financial crisis resulting from the closure of venues due to the coronavirus epidemic.

The total package of support amounts to some £1.57 billion, hailed by the government as "world-leading".

If that is the case, it would seem appropriate given the "world-leading" cultural sector it is seeking to prop-up which employs over 700,000 people.

Boris Johnson said ...

"From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK's cultural industry is the beating heart of this country.

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."

The funding includes support for national cultural institutions in England and investment in cultural and heritage sites to restart construction work that had to be halted during the lockdown.

The financial package is split between grants and loans, including ...

- £1.15 billion for cultural organisations in England, made up of £270 million of repayable finance and £880 million in grants.

- £100 million of targeted support for the national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust

- £120 million of capital investment to restart construction on cultural infrastructure and for heritage construction projects in England paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.

- £188 million for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33 million), Scotland (£97 million) and Wales (£59 million).

The announcement seems to have been largely welcomed by the cultural sector.

Julian Bird, Chief Executive of Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre said ...

"The government's announcement of a £1.57bn package of support for the arts, culture and heritage sector in the UK is hugely welcomed - for the theatre and performing arts sector, we have worked intensively with DCMS and HMT to seek this clear commitment to our world-leading industry and we thank them.

Venues, producers and the huge workforce in the theatre sector look forward to clarity of how these funds will be allocated and invested, so that artists and organisations can get back to work as soon as possible.

Our industry's united ambition is to be able to play its vital role in the nation's economic and social recovery and this investment will allow us to do so."

Playwright James Graham, who has been among those most active in pressuring the government to deliver support, said ...

"I am so incredibly grateful that the government has listened to the outpouring of not only concerns but also of great passion from audiences and artists over the threat to a much-loved part of our national life.

Theatres and live performance venues play a vital economic and social role not just in places like London's West End, but in every town and city across the country, and I am so relieved that Oliver Dowden, DCMS, and the Treasury recognise that this is a prize worth saving and celebrating.

In normal times, we are a profitable and world-beating industry, and we can be again.

The scale and the ambition of this package is incredibly welcome and I have to say a huge relief to the hundreds of thousands of skilled workers (not to mention millions of audience members) who want to be able to get British culture back up and thriving as soon as it is safe to do so."

And Andrew Lloyd Webber said ...

"This news is truly welcome at a time when so many theatres, orchestras, entertainment venues and other arts organisations face such a bleak future.

I know how hard Oliver Dowden (Culture Secretary) has worked to secure this support.

It is absolutely critical that Britain's cultural sector is restored to health as soon as possible, and I look forward to seeing the details of the rescue package and working further with Oliver and the Government to get all of Britain's theatres - both large and small - open as soon as possible."

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) says that "decisions on awards will be made working alongside expert independent figures from the sector including Arts Council England and other bodies such as Historic England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute".

Repayable finance will, apparently, be issued on generous terms tailored to make them 'affordable'.

Full details about the government's largesse will be set out when the scheme opens for applications "in the coming weeks" - which might just be too late for some venues already struggling to make ends meet.

As with all support packages of this kind, the devil will most certainly be found in the detail and will probably leave many wondering just how far the sum will go given the wide range of institutions who will fall under its umbrella.

And, of course, some venues such as Southampton's Nuffield Theatre, have already announced permanent closure and many theatre workers have already been made redundant.

In addition, there's a big unknown about which organisations might be tempted to take loans - even on generous terms - since these add to liabilities from future income that will inevitably have to cover extraordinary spending the pandemic has forced on organisations including arrangements for keeping venues covid-safe when they reopen.

According to the DCMS, the government is "finalising guidance for a phased return of the performing arts sectors that will be published shortly."

Phasing could yet mean that theatres and concert halls might not fully reopen for some time to come - possibly not even before the start of the New Year.

That may threaten the lucrative panto season that provides many theatres with funds that carry them through the rest of their performing year.

So, welcome though the support announcement is, live performance venues and other arts organisations may still be left facing considerable uncertainty for some to time to come while details about reopening and how the financial support package will be distributed are made clear.

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