So here we are, then. 2021.
As the UK takes the strain of a third lockdown, what news of our beleaguered arts and entertainment world?
Let’s start with the little good news we have. On January 15th, the UK’s Supreme Court adjudged on the side of businesses and against insurers who were trying to rat out of their obligations, refusing to pay out business interruption insurance. This was a heartening step, to know that many arts organisations and venues would get a measure of compensation for the losses they have had to endure.
However, for many it was no use, as organisations of smaller sizes never had that kind of insurance in the first place.
Then the next phase of the Cultural Recovery Fund was announced, though it was a mixture of grants and loans (let’s not overstate government largesse here, folks), and at only 20% the size of the original fund, hardly all-encompassing. There were ever fewer sightings of (apparently) Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, neatly described by The Guardian’s John Crace as”a man with the hunted look of Foxton’s worst-performing estate agent”.
Further, the insurance-backed programs so quickly provided to the film and TV world haven’t materialised for theatre. Not exactly a level playing field, then. The government balks at covering what its pals in the insurance industry don’t want to do because, rather like the UK’s trains being halted by the wrong kind of leaves on the railway tracks, this risk is the wrong kind of risk – so they aren’t playing ball. And the government have once again left the theatre and performance industries without the right support.
For many producers, the approaching Spring restart dates optimistically set up for some shows are feeling increasingly tight, and therefore likely to move back further. The key thing the industry needs is a measure of certainty, which we do not currently have – and will not have for many months yet. It’s all about what risk producers are prepared to shoulder.
And what else has happened this year? Oh, yes, a little thing called Brexit. You may not have come across it, but basically it’s a government plan to destroy most of the UK economy in exchange for some magic beans. No, sorry I am getting my panto wires crossed here. Or am I? In the weeks since the whole debacle kicked off, we have fishermen unable to sell fish to their biggest markets, lorries being turned back from EU borders due to incomplete or incorrect paperwork and small businesses being advised by the UK government to set up shop in the EU! Eh?
In news which underlined the government’s startling incompetence, the fisheries minister admit she didn’t even read the Brexit agreement because she was busy at her kid’s nativity (what’s the fate of a nation of 60 million people against a photo op for the family album, eh?). We later learned that UK negotiators (and I use that term so incredibly loosely) refused the idea of 90-day visa free EU travel for artists and performers to enable the continuation of touring of arts and entertainment reciprocally between the EU and the UK. Just to repeat- it was the EU which offered this, and the UK which turned it down flat. Why? because (according to reports) the UK didn’t want to offer the same courtesy to EU performers visiting the UK. Can you believe the arrogance and sheer stupidity?
So the vast numbers of people involved in touring shows, concerts and other events cannot now work outside the UK without endless documentation and reams of red tape which- do not forget – was brought upon us only by this government’s incompetence. The likelihood that this will make touring financially unviable is almost certain.
And still, almost one year later since the pandemic closed the arts, do we have any help for the 70% of the industry who are freelancers? Nothing. People are going without the basics of life and the government does nothing to help them. These talented people are retraining, leaving the industry they have spent years in because they are not being supported, whereas millions of others are helped left, right and centre. Don’t talk to them about a level playing field. Thinking ahead to when we have lost this wealth of talent, what point is there in saving venues if we have no-one to put shows into them?
Credit where its due, the Society Of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre have done a sterling job, like many organisations – practically reinventing themselves overnight, and they have distributed over £5million of donated money to those in the industry who are without work or support and in need.
Of course, behind this government’s arrogance, ignorance and incompetence I have a feeling that there is actually a plan, but it’s not one that any of us voted for. You can’t run from the sickening feeling that the government and their hedge fund cronies have been betting on the UK economy to tank, driving it into a wall so they can pick up the insurance money. No worries about a big payout for them. Little did those constantly lied-to Brexit voters realise when they voted that the “sunlit uplands” Boris talked about were reserved exclusively for the Upper Class.
With thanks to The Guardian for news links