UK Culture Secretary Responds to Criticism: 'I Understand the Seriousness of the Situation'
As BroadwayWorld has previously reported, UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has laid out the Government's "five stage roadmap" for theatres reopening. However, the roadmap did not include any concrete dates - or, crucially, much-needed funding to support theatres and arts workers in this critical shutdown period.
Today, BBC Front Row host John Wilson tweeted excerpts from his interview with famed conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, which assert that Dowden made 'very clear' on a recent Zoom call that the UK arts sector is 'better and stronger' without government support.
He adds that representatives from the arts sector had expressed that the arts will require a huge investment from the government in order to survive, a request Rattle says, "wasn't something that was welcome for him to hear."
Dowden responded today, writing, "Not true. What I said was that arts orgs who have worked hard to increase income from non govt sources should not be penalised for it in this crisis. I understand the seriousness of the situation and am working on it every single day."
Not true. What I said was that arts orgs who have worked hard to increase income from non govt sources should not be penalised for it in this crisis.- Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) June 30, 2020
I understand the seriousness of the situation and am working on it every single day. @BBCFrontRow https://t.co/PbYD4AjUb5
In response to the the announcement, Theatres Trust Director Jon Morgan says: "The Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden's announcement of a five-step roadmap for reopening of theatres is a move in the right direction, but critically it does not offer any timescales for stages 3 to 5, the stages when audiences will be admitted to performances. Without this detail theatres will still be unable to plan effectively for their reopening. The impact of this uncertainty is devastating for the theatre industry.
"Each day there is news of another theatre making large-scale redundancies and for every day of delay there is the grave danger of more theatres closing permanently. The government must urgently confirm 'no earlier than' dates for stages 3 to 5 and respond to the sector's calls for a financial rescue package to protect our world class theatre. Without this critical support, we face a cultural catastrophe."
The union Equity has also released a detailed response:
"Equity represents over 48,000 creative workers, most of whom will have an interest in the development and application of the Roadmap announced by Secretary of State Oliver Dowden.
Our membership includes actors, singers, dancers, stage management, theatre directors and designers, fight directors, choreographers and a range of other professionals working across commercial, subsidised, independent, fringe and regional theatre, the West End, opera, live music, ballet and the broader dance sector and many other fields of live performance.
Equity has sought to constructively engage with Government and Departments since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and more recently our General Secretary has been party to discussions taking place at the Entertainment and Events Working Group, a sub group of the Cultural Renewal Taskforce. We recognise the difficulties associated with coming up with comprehensive and definitive Guidance which can enable our industries to re-open in the context of the right and proper objective of protecting public health in the face of a very dangerous and easily transmissible virus.
In this context it is impossible to ignore the incompatibility of full or indeed partial re-opening for many sectors of the live performance industries, under existing funding and business models.
The initial stages of the Roadmap announced by the Secretary of State clearly underline the need for investment in creative infrastructure and/or ongoing support for organisations and the workers associated with them - whether they are permanent employees, freelance or self-employed.
For Equity, a successful and sustainable return to work in the live performance industries is contingent on four interrelated pillars:
- Workforce protection
- Safe Opening
- Protecting Infrastructure
1. Workforce Protection
The Roadmap is rightly primarily focussed on workplace health and safety concerns, but these cannot be extricated from the current economic reality for the sector. Without continuing support for the creative workforce, many will rush to return to work in order to earn a living, putting the safety of audiences and workers alike at risk. Reduced cast sizes and other measures envisaged by the Roadmap will also impact on work opportunities, leading to an exodus of skilled workers from the industry. In order to ensure compliance with safety measures it is vital that ongoing financial support is provided urgently in the form of:
- Continuation of the Job Retention Scheme post October
- Continuation of the Self Employed Income support Scheme post August
- Action to help those in the creative industries who have fallen through the gaps in Government support schemes and are unlikely to be able to earn a living for many more months
2. Safe opening
In the short term it may be possible for a limited range of live performance activity to resume including circus, small scale and independent theatre which could work on basis of having fixed teams or 'bubbles'. Some larger arts organisations in the subsidised sector may also be able to explore different ways of working including digital exploitation of live performances and at a later phase may be able to explore partial re-opening, but will need further financial support to do so, in the context of capacity issues. For the commercial sectors and the West End, a range of difficulties from re-staging to the investment required to adapt buildings, will be incredibly challenging and will have a knock on effect for other sectors including hospitality and retail.
The phased approach to safe opening envisaged in the Roadmap should therefore encompass a range of additional measures including:
- Encouragement of digital streaming and multi-venue relays with a proviso that exploitation of performances must include fair remuneration for creatives.
- Exploration of a ticketing subsidy to complement section 5 of the Guidance, when conditions allow larger-scale opening
- Consideration of producing sub sectoral guidance including for areas not mentioned in the Guidance such as dance
3. Protecting infrastructure
The UK has a wealth of cultural infrastructure, from community hubs to historic buildings, which must be protected at this time when they cannot easily generate revenue. In recent decades taxpayer funds have added to this property portfolio and this investment must also be safeguarded. We also need to protect independent commercial producers who do not own buildings where productions are situated.
Complementary to the Guidance we therefore need:
- An Emergency Relief Fund and Cultural Investment Participation Scheme endorsed by unions and engagers
- Changes to the Creative Tax Reliefs schemes to facilitate commercial productions
We must protect the interests of the most vulnerable groups as we consider the return to work and robustly ensure that older workers, disabled workers and carers for shielded groups are explicitly acknowledged and included. It is also vital that we acknowledge the significant impact of coronavirus on people of colour, and especially black communities. Moving forward we must take advantage of opportunities through new casting and working practices to reach our long-term policy objective of a more representative industry.
Attendant to the Roadmap we believe the following are required:
- Equality impact assessments on all Guidance from DCMS as the re-opening situation develops
- Any subsidy to institutions is attached to clear organisation-specific commitments to eliminate gaps in representation and pay.
- That all Guidance includes specific reference and where necessary further research into shielding groups and those caring for them, and how to integrate them back into the workforce effectively.
- Sub-sectoral Guidance which may enable some of the more inclusive sectors, such as independent theatre and dance to return to work quickly
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