Grahame Morris MP has signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, co-ordinated by Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, on behalf of the theatre and performing arts sector.

The letter sets out the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the sector, and outlines the government action that is required to ensure the survival and recovery of theatres and performing arts venues.

The impact of the pandemic on the sector has been immediate and devastating. The letter outlines the medium and long-term consequences see threats to economic, social and cultural wellbeing in communities all over the UK:

  • With all theatres closed for over two months, box office income and ancillary trading is at zero
  • Fixed costs remain high, including listed building overheads at £70,000 to £100,000 on average per month. 70% of organisations will run out of cash by end of 2020 (across venues / producers and London / rest of the UK)
  • Theatres across the UK are going out of business, including venues in Leicester, Southampton and Southport
  • The Job Retention Scheme has avoided large-scale redundancies to this point, and we welcome The Government’s hard work on making this essential scheme available
  • Without intervention, job losses are likely to number over 200,000 (employed and freelancers)
  • Loan schemes very challenging to access, for example because of charitable status restrictions and financial structures of commercial operators unable to accommodate debt
  • Social-distancing measures will allow for only c.20% of capacity – this is not an economic business model for the sector, where 50% to 70% occupancy is typically needed to break even and means theatres cannot operate
  • Loss to HMT of VAT payments (over £130mn for West End theatres alone) plus enormous economic impact on all related hospitality and related businesses – multiplier estimated at 5-6 times in major cities – if theatres are forced to shut down permanently
  • Major risk to towns and cities around the UK where investment in venues and jobs has led to regional powerhouses of production, including regional strength for sector in North East, Manchester, Midlands

Other sectors will begin to gradually reopen in the coming weeks, whilst still adhering to social distancing guidelines. However, the letter outlines why this will not be possible for theatres and performing arts venues, as ‘attempting to do so would leave around 20% of our seats available, and with 50% to 70% occupancy typically needed to break even theatres cannot operate. It is not possible to increase this capacity whilst respecting essential social distancing rules and this threatens to damage theatre and cultural spaces across the UK.’

As such, the letter proposes two groups of recommendations; the first is a new Emergency Rescue Fund and Long-term Loan or Cultural Investment Participation Scheme, and the second is a collection of extensions or revisions to existing policy:

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.

Grahame Morris MP said, “The theatre and performing arts sector is facing a unique challenge; not only has the sector been significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but the nature of its venues means that it will prove impossible for the sector to reopen whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines. It is vital that the sector is protected whilst it is still unable to reopen safely. As such, I fully support the proposals outlined in the letter to the Prime Minister.”

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