Warning of a jobs crisis for the arts and entertainment sector in southern Scotland

  • Article and video report by Tim Backshall.

The arts and entertainment sector in Dumfries and Galloway faces a "jobs crisis" unless more action is taken to protect the industry, according to a local MSP. 

Labour's Colin Smyth says two and a half thousand jobs in south west Scotland rely on the arts and wants more government assistance. The Scottish government says it has already provided a lot of support for the industry and will continue to look at what more it can do.

At Scotland's oldest working theatre, the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, the show has been unable to go on for the last five months. Scottish theatres have now been given a planned opening date of September the 14th but major performances here won't return until the new year and even then with less than a third of the usual audience due to social distancing.

Theatre Director, Mark Alexander, says using only 60 seats out of 200 seats isn't viable.

"Not really and that's the same for most of the theatres in the UK," he says.  In terms of the full on programme I don't think it's going to be practical for most of the industry until we're back to non-distanced theatre." 

The theatre is grateful for around £25,000 of support from the Scottish Government, but the industry is one of the last to be released from lockdown. 

Theatre Director, Mark Alexander. Credit: ITV Border News

Commenting on the announcement that theatres now have a date for a possible reopening Anne Aldridge, from the theatre's Guild of Players, says: "It's a huge step forward, the first step, so if that means we can now welcome back some of our groups, our workshop groups, back into the building that would be great. It would mean some of our volunteers could be back in." 

It's not just theatres that have been affected. The whole of the culture industry has been hit by the restrictions from coronavirus. The fate of the biggest festival in Dumfries and Galloway, planned for the new year, is still uncertain. The Big Burns Supper would normally attract around 30 thousand people to Dumfries. 

"All we know is it's going to be a very different festival than it would normally be," says the Executive Producer, Graham Main. "If we've got 3,000 people in a space it's just not practical so we don't really know yet but we will do something and it will be a wee bit different." 

Theatre Royal, Dumfries. Credit: ITV News

One South of Scotland MSP says more needs to be done to protect the two and a half thousand arts jobs across Dumfries and Galloway. Colin Smyth wants the Scottish Government to do more to help arts businesses.

"They haven't received that specific sector-related support to help them through these difficult times financially and my call on the government is to give them more support to help them through these difficult times." 

But the SNP's Joan McAlpine says the Scottish Government has done a lot to help the industry.

"Well there's always more you can do but the Scottish Government was ahead of the UK Government in supporting the arts. One of the first things the Scottish Government did was instruct Creative Scotland to change the way it funded arts." 

Credit: PA

This week the Scottish Government has announced a 6 million pound fund to help the events sector and at her daily briefing the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended her government's actions. 

"We will always look at what more we can do. I don't mean this to sound an excuse or a political point in any way. It's just a statement of fact that the Scottish Government's resources are finite because we don't have access to unlimited borrowing powers, the way the UK does," she says.

"And I think the biggest looming threat of a wave of redundancies is the premature ending of the furlough scheme so I would urge them (the UK Government) to think again about that." 

Many questions remain for the arts but with an indicative date for reopening there are now at least some answers for this hard-pressed industry.