Theatre jobs could be saved as government reveals £1.5bn support fund

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

A £1.57 billion support package for the arts could see a decision to cut more than 100 jobs from the region’s main theatre reassessed.

The government has announced a multi-million pound package geared at safeguarding the future of the country’s theatres, museums, independent cinemas, heritage sites and other cultural venues.

And Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatres has said the announcement, which came following intense lobbying and urgent SOS calls from those involved in the arts industry, could save the scores of jobs that were last week announced as being at risk.

However, the theatre boss has also called for the government to provide greater clarity and clear reopening plans for venues like the ones he oversees.

He said: “This is definitely a positive first step and once all the details of how the funding will be distributed are available the job losses are absolutely something we will be able to reassess.

“I have been open with the staff throughout this pandemic, but without a clear plan for reopening it is always going to be difficult to keep them informed.

“I really hope the government can acknowledge the utter devastation Covid-19 has caused the arts industry and it needs to set out just how we are going to get back open.”

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Mr Crocker said that while he welcomed the financial statement, details of how organisations can apply for the funding, how it will be spread out and what it can be used for need to be promptly given.

The new government funding will mean that it – and other attractions such as independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues – will be able to apply for emergency grants and loans to safeguard their futures.

Mr Crocker had previously said it felt as though independent, non-funded theatres like those in Norwich had been “left to rot” by the government through the pandemic.

Prime minister 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 £1.15 billion support pot for cultural organisations in England will be made up of £270 million of repayable finance and £880 million of grants.

The funding also includes money for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33 million), Scotland (£97 million) and Wales (£59 million), the government said.

The Government said: “Repayable finance (for the loans) will be issued on generous terms tailored for cultural institutions to ensure they are affordable.”

It said the money “represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture” and will help struggling institutions “stay afloat while their doors are closed”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he understood the “grave challenges” facing the arts sector and that the investment demonstrated the Government’s “level of commitment” in supporting it.

Funding will also be provided to restart construction work at cultural and heritage sites paused as a result of the pandemic, the Government said.

Decisions on awards will be made working alongside expert independent figures from the sector.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the arts and heritage sectors employ more than 700,000 people and were “critical” to the UK’s economy.

The announcement has been welcomed by various industry leaders, including Arts Council England chairman Sir Nicholas Serota, who said the package was a “very significant investment”.

Creative organisations will be “serving their communities and... helping the nation recover as we emerge from the pandemic”, he said.

Labour shadow DCMS secretary Jo Stevens said while she welcomed the “much-needed” cash injection, it was “too little, too late” for many.

She said: “The Government needs to ensure that this vital funding gets to those theatres and other organisations currently teetering on the brink, and fast - especially those across the towns and small cities where live performance venues and other arts organisations are so valuable to local economies, providing many interdependent jobs, particularly in hospitality.”

Ms Stevens added she was concerned that the scheme lacked any support for freelancers.

“One other thing which is missing from the announcement - freelancers which dominate this sector across all types of arts and culture,” she said.

“Many of them have been excluded from the treasury schemes to date, they’ve had nothing and it doesn’t seem that there’s anything in this announcement, particularly in terms of Government action, to help freelancers who are struggling so badly.”

Jon Morgan, director of The Theatres Trust, said theatres were among the hardest industries during the pandemic and remain at risk while social distancing measures are in place.

He said more detail was needed about how the money would be allocated across the different areas to fully assess its benefit, adding: “We would hope that a significant proportion will be reserved for the performing arts.”

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Julian Knight said the support package would take some cultural institutions out of the “danger zone”.

However, he said more was needed to secure the sector’s future, including possible tax breaks.

The funding was also welcomed by composer Lord Lloyd-Webber, who said the news was “truly welcome at a time when so many theatres, orchestras, entertainment venues and other arts organisations face such a bleak future”.