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Curtains-up on a financial support package for the arts sector

06 July 2020

By Tim Le Couilliard, Newgate Public Affairs

Whilst people in England enjoyed the welcome return of bars, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers this weekend, we are still yet to be able to experience the wealth of arts and culture usually on offer. Although it seems a while until we will be able to attend such delights, the government has made moves to support the financial grounding of the industry.   

Answering passionate calls from the public, and an industry that employs over 700,000 people, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has unveiled a £1.57 billion emergency support package for industries within his ministerial brief. The “new” money, made up of a series of grants and loans, is to be spent on supporting theatres, music venues, galleries, museums, independent cinemas and heritage sites, will be focused on the “crown jewel” venues as well as those considered locally or regionally significant. Institutions are to apply through their industry bodies and must demonstrate how they contribute to the economic growth of their region. 

Despite being labelled “the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture”, Dowden has caveated, however, and offered a stark warning that despite this package of support, “not everyone is going to be able to survive and not every job is going to be protected”. This oh-too-real concern has already been realised during the lockdown with a number of theatres closing with redundancies already announced. Right on cue, the Labour shadow secretary Jo Stevens, has asked the question, “what took the government so long?”, stating that Dowden has “known the problems in the sector for weeks and weeks and weeks”. Theatre grandee and Conservative Peer Andrew Lloyd Webber, however, is one of a cast of senior industry leaders who have wholeheartedly welcomed the support package, praising the action taken by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, especially following a series of less-than-positive leaks in the media as to what the support may have encompassed. 

Further details will be set out when the scheme opens for applications in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the announcement marks the prelude for a “Mini-Budget” being presented by the Chancellor on Wednesday. As such, speculation is rife in Westminster as to what may or may not be announced. For the housing sector, rumours of a temporary cut in stamp duty are being mused, with plans to lift the threshold at which people start paying stamp duty from £125,000 to perhaps even £500,000. On transport, there is an expectation that rail companies will need taxpayer funding for years as passenger numbers will not yet return to pre-Covid levels. 

Whilst much of the Budget speculation remains just speculation, one thing that has been confirmed is a cash payment of £1,000 for certain businesses who offer work experience to 16-24-year olds. The funding, which is to form part of a £111 million investment to encourage traineeships, is intended to support a generation set to miss out the most from the economic crisis.