Budget extends aid to culture sector


Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £300 million addition to the existing £1.57 billion recovery fund for theatres, museums and galleries and live music venues.

Around £300 million will be offered for support until venues can reopen - which will not be before May 17, and possibly later.

Another £150 million has also been promised for local communities, to allow groups to take ownership of small theatres, pubs and sports clubs in danger of closure.

The latest Covid-combating money forms part of the biggest peacetime support package for the economy on record – around £407 billion in the past year across all sectors – and is seen by the Government as a push to get the nation back on track financially, with schemes to encourage growth and training.

Chief among these measures is an extension of the job furlough scheme and freelance support schemes until September. The job furlough scheme will require no employer contribution beyond national insurance and pensions until July, after which they will pay an increasing percentage, reaching 20 per cent by September.

Theatres, along with many other businesses, had demanded such extensions. Unlike many industrial concerns, which remained open with lower or rotated staffing, most theatres closed last March and have remained mostly closed since, with full-time admin staff working from home where possible on greatly-reduced hours, and freelance staff not working at all.

For the latter the Chancellor is also extending the self-employed support scheme, with a fourth one-off grant to cover up to 80 per cent of three months’ average trading profits (Feb-Apl 2021, claimable from late April), capped as £7,500, and a fifth and final grant to cover May-September. The fifth grant is seen as a transitional sum to ease the route back to work: it will be calculated on turnover; those whose profit has dropped by 30 per cent or more will receive the full grant, while those whose earnings have dropped by less than 30 per cent will receive a far smaller grant, capped at under £3,000.

Theatres are hoping to reopen from May 17 with the now-standard social distancing meaures, while full-capacity performances are expected, Covid-permitting, from June 21.

The announcement of further support at least gives theatres a breathing space in which to formulate new seasons, but the problems associated with theatres and live entertainment haven’t gone away with the announcement of more money and greater opening flexibility.

Producers who have mothballed commercial productions will now need to get casts and rehearsals up and running while still looking at much-reduced income for at least the first few weeks of a renewed run.

Local theatres such as the significant number around Manchester and the surrounding region will have to consider winding down online activities while setting up and rehearsing new live productions - again, with limited likely income for the first one or more shows.

Items thought essential by producers but missing from the Budget were any kind of insurance scheme to underwrite production costs, or modifications to the theatre tax relief scheme.

Some theatres will be able to benefit from the 100% businesses rates holiday, until June, for many businesses in retail and leisure, which will be followed by a two-thirds discount on business rates until the end of the financial year.

The five per cent reduced rate VAT for theatre tickets will also now run until September 30, after which the rate will rise to 12.5 per cent until the end of March 2022, with the full rate from the new financial year.