Covid cash boost for arts 'inadequate' and 'bordering on the insulting,' say sector

General view of Shaftesbury Avenue, London, at around the usual opening time for west end shows, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered theatres, pubs and restaurants across the country to close as the Government announced unprecedented measures to cover the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The West End has been hit by Covid-related cancellations and face a bleak start to the new year. Credit: PA

A £30 million boost to support organisations in the arts, such as theatres, museums and orchestras through the winter until March 2022, has been announced.

Rishi Sunak announced three new "generous" measures to help the arts and hospitality industries get through what should be their busiest period, as restaurants' bookings plummet and theatres are forced to close amid a sharp increase in Covid cases.

But some in the sector said the support was ""inadequate" and vague" amid warnings theatres were in a "dreadful state" as the Omicron Covid variant wave caused a string of cancellations.

The £1.57 billion CRF was launched in July 2020 with the objective of protecting Britain’s cultural, arts and heritage institutions.

Groups criticised the extent of the support and the decision to distribute it through the fund, saying a system of emergency support packages is instead needed.

A string of West End productions and live events have had to cancel performances due to cast and crew testing positive for Covid-19 while bookings for the beginning of 2022 are far below expectations.

Sir Cameron Macintosh told BBC News commercial theatre had used up its "reserves to get the shows back up" after months of lockdown.

"At the point that we’re trying to recoup some of our losses, we are in a dreadful state at the moment and desperately need the government to help commercial theatre going through the next few weeks.”

Michael Kill, CEO Night Time Industries Association, called on the government for more clarity to avoid businesses being "caught out by further restrictions"

Paul W Fleming, general secretary of Equity – the trade union for performing arts workers – described the support announced for the sector as “shocking”.

He said: “The lack of financial support for the creative workforce in today’s announcement from the Chancellor is a shocking example of Government negligence when Equity members are staring into a winter of cancelled shows, bookings and performances. Many producers, workplaces and artists are ineligible for Cultural Recovery Funding.

“Instead of another inadequate, vague, headline deal for bosses and buildings, we need an urgent plan to protect all those working in theatre and entertainment industries during this critical Christmas season.”

He said these should include a new furlough scheme for performers and stage management, increasing statutory sick pay and extending it to self-employed taxpayers, and targeted support for creative team members, entertainers and variety artists through new grants.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said support for the culture sector was “far too little” and “borders on the insulting.”

He said: “Businesses are failing, people are losing their livelihoods and the industry is crippled.

“Mixed messaging, coupled with additional restrictions, have had a catastrophic impact on our sector over the last two weeks.

“At this critical point, we need strong leadership and a clear pathway from government with a long-term strategy for new Covid variants.

“The open/close strategy is crucifying businesses. Every pound of help is much needed. But this package is far too little and borders on the insulting.”

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan welcomed the announcement of further support for the creative sector.

“We hope that both funds are distributed as quickly as possible to help protect theatres. Theatres across the country are already struggling with shows being cancelled due to infections and falling ticket sales as audiences follow Government advice to be cautious, so this support is very much needed," he said. Numerous shows have had to cancel performances due to coronavirus, including The Lion King in the West End which has shut until at least December 28 due to “ongoing Covid-enforced absences” among the cast and crew.

Other London-based musicals including The Book Of Mormon, Cabaret At The Kit Kat Club, Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away have announced they will also all be suspended until December 27.

Jersey Boys, Wicked, Moulin Rouge, Aladdin, Cinderella, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia! and The Drifters Girl have also had issues.