The Budget had some welcome news for some in the arts, but none for others.
The Chancellor announced an extra $408million to top up the Culture Recovery Fund which recognised that the road to recovery for arts venues and organisations will be slower and longer than earlier anticipated.
Let us not forget that the total amount allocated to the arts- just over £2billion – is about 6% of the total amount that the Government lavished on their failed disaster of a Track and Trace project, which produced no benefits – neither in the present nor in the future. In contrast, the arts as an industry produce over £110 billion of activity year after year. Perhaps we can all now get into perspective how little the Government really wants to “help” the arts.
Reflecting the politicians’ continuing lack of understanding about the arts world and how it functions, freelancers – one of the most vital groups who make the arts “work” – were forgotten yet again, in another infuriating slap in the face.
While its true to say that some theatres will be helped by the extension of the Job Retention Scheme and the extension to the business rates holiday until the end of June (followed by nine months of the rate being discounted by two thirds), smaller organisations are unlikely to feel much benefit.
Further, the VAT cut to 5% on leisure and hospitality sales which will stay in place until 30 September, (after which the rate will be 12.5% for a further six months) is a help to more venues but organisations still have to tread the long road back before seeing much impact of these measures.
The announced Restart Grants of up to £18k per premises for hospitality businesses, (including theatres) sounds more optimistic, but of course like all of these things the details are lacking and until the fog clears this may well be another case of Tory smoke and mirrors as we have seen too many times before.
A new Community Ownership Fund was announced, and it remains to see if this is actually worth the paper it is printed on, as we have no details yet , so although it’s a useful headline for the Chancellor, it’s just an empty promise for now.
What is so infuriating is that the most important item, a government-backed insurance scheme that theatres could rely upon in case of further restrictions along the road to recovery, is being stubbornly ignored. What is this Government’s agenda, we must ask, when such measures were introduced for the film and TV industry over nine months ago and yet refused to the theatre industry which so often feeds the film and TV industry. What is going on? Why are they hiding this obvious solution?
Let us also remember that a sizeable proportion of the Culture Recovery Fund was given as repayable loans and not grants, so organisations are going to find the next few years the hardest they may have ever had, should reduced audience numbers combine with higher overheads and debt, a toxic mix for any company relying on a shoestring to get them through another season.
It is becoming more and more clear that the Government has it in for the arts and seems to consider the crippling of theatre as a price well worth paying, while in public doing the bare minimum to allow the PR people to spin it as “helping”.
I don’t buy it – and neither, I suspect, do you.