Theatres warn of huge losses without vital insurance scheme


Culture secretary Olvier Dowden: no state-backed insurance so far
Culture secretary Olvier Dowden: no state-backed insurance so far

Theatre organisations pressing for a so-far elusive government-backed production insurance scheme have warned of potentially hundreds of millions of pounds of losses if one isn’t announced soon.

Commercial theatre will have only half its 2019 level of investment if a government scheme isn’t available to underwrite investments in tours and the West End in particular – but a lack of new touring shows will have a knock-on effect throughout the country’s commercial theatres.

Trade bodies and unions believe losses could be as much as £700 million a year, in an industry that previously generated around £1 billion a year in VAT alone.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has previously indicated that such a scheme was under Treasury scrutiny, but no such scheme has yet materialised.

The Society of London Theatre, UK Theatre and unions Equity, BECTU (musicians’ union) and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain have again called for immediate government action on an insurance plan to support theatres now restrictions on audience numbers have been lifted.

The groups have been in discussion with insurers and claim commercial schemes won’t be available for at least another year (as underwriters learn the scale of need and likely cost of claims).

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons earlier this month that the government would consider backing an insurance plan once restrictions had been lifted, if no commercial insurance was subsequently available.

The groups say insurance will allow them to talk to investors while offering reasonable guarantees, boosting the sector’s output; stop theatre investment going to countries with greater public investment; offer greater security to thousands of theatre workers and commercial venues and the nighttime industry, and massively reduce the risks when theatres are closed suddenly due to the identification of new Covid-19 cases. Losses could reach £700 million for theatres and another £800 million for city-centre bars and restaurants that no longer enjoy the trade a theatre audience brings

A statement signed by leaders of each of the trade bodies and unions said: “The impact of this lack of activity on our workforce cannot be understated.”

The lack of investment will affect around 200,000 workers, 70 per cent of them freelance and over half of them working outside London; this isn’t simply a plea for the survival of London’s West End, despite that area’s importance to UK theatre culture.