VIEWS: Fifteen-month late government insurance scheme denounced as not fit for purpose

The live theatre sector has consistently been given less support than other business areas to survive the ravages of Covid – and that neglect continues.

Just look at the evidence – the government leaps to help industries like the aviation industry, with EasyJet doled out a whopping £600million of taxpayers cash within a month of the start of the UK-wide shutdown in 2020. Two months later the TV and film industries get a comprehensive insurance-backed scheme to allow them to restart and claim for Covid-related shutdowns in their supply chains. But what about theatre and other live events? It has taken over one year later until the government announced something similar for the live entertainment sector.

As soon as it was announced, as a Lloyds-backed scheme valued at $750million operating for a year from September, it was clear to see that it was not going to be much help.

Why? Because the offered insurance is heavily front-loaded, meaning that most (if not all) producers will simply find it too expensive to even contemplate. And therefore of zero help.

Leading producers have criticised the scheme, describing it as too little, too late and not fit for purpose. If Sir Cameron Mackintosh considered it “prohibitvely expensive”, then you can immediately imagine what other producers might think of it.

Mackintosh added “(the) insurance on offer explicitly excludes some of the protection the theatre desperately needs, namely for cancellation of performances caused by illness or enforced isolation and the negative effect of the reintroduction of limited capacities, which would make most shows financially unviable”. Another leading producer, Sonia Friedman, described the insurance as adding £750,000 of cost onto a twelve-week run, which even the public can see is utterly unviable.

Rather than support the theatre and live events industries by talking to them about what they need and then fashioning support accordingly, the government has once again evidenced that they do not understand the sector, nor do they have the slightest interest in educating themselves to understand it. It’s just another piece of the government mess born of disinterest, idleness and incompetence.

You can read more about the scheme via the Guardian newspaper here

STATEMENT FROM SOLT AND UK THEATRE about the offered insurance scheme

Society of London Theatre, representing over 230 producers, and UK Theatre representing over 240 theatres, made this statement when this announcement was made in August:

“Today’s announcement of a government backed insurance scheme for the live performance and events sectors, which is accessible also to theatres and productions is a welcome demonstration of the need for insurance to protect against the severe impacts of the pandemic. These have led to costly cancellations of theatre productions, and a major inhibition to producers, venues, and external investors from making the commitments necessary to bring our world leading theatre sector back to normal levels of activity, with all the employment which that creates, right the way across the UK.

Theatre generates £1.4bn in revenue annually and we estimate that as a sector our total economic impact including to the hospitality, travel and the tourism markets, coupled with the vibrancy theatre brings to our city centres, is worth at least treble this number to the economy as a whole. We also provide critical international earnings as our high quality productions are exported around the world. The sector will not be able to flourish and return to pre pandemic levels without an effective insurance scheme in place, that provides cover for Covid-19 related risks.

Currently commercial insurers are unwilling to offer such crucial cover without government backing. We therefore welcome government intervention to help plug the gap left by this market failure – especially in relation to possible future national or regional lockdowns.

However today’s proposal addresses only some, and not all, of the major risks that theatre faces. Self- isolation regulations have been forcing the closures of shows at short notice. Social distancing audience number caps have been a constant burden to an industry which requires high audience occupancy levels to be economically viable. The threat of their possible reimposition represents a major risk, that we need to obtain insurance cover for – especially if larger, high cost productions are going to resume at normal levels. Theatre productions need long term sustainable cover for shows running daily over a considerable period of time. These risks and requirements are not addressed properly by the proposal. For any scheme to be effective it has to be comprehensive, and it also has to be affordable.

We recognise the considerable engagement that has been made by DCMS and HMT, over the past year, in working closely with the theatre sector on the issue of insurance. It is important that we continue those negotiations and discussions as we work through the specific detail of the proposal announced today, but also to find ways to mitigate cover to include more of the risks that the sector is facing due to the pandemic, and to making the costs involved significantly more viable.”

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