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Cultural workforce in crisis, says new report, which backs WGGB Covid-19 calls

The Government has consistently failed to recognise the scale of the challenge facing the cultural sector and has been too slow to respond to its needs during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a new report, released today by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC).

Many organisations within the creative sector now face an existential threat to their survival, say MPs in the wide-ranging document, which includes recommendations made by WGGB, other entertainment unions and industry bodies.

The report laments how long it took for the Government’s £1.57 billion support package for the arts to be announced and says that the loss of performing arts institutions and the creative workforce would reverse decades of progress in cultural provision, diversity and inclusion.

The cultural industries are likely to face mass redundancies, with a lasting impact on access to the arts, careers in the creative sectors and the UK’s position as a world leader in arts and culture. 70% of theatres and production companies risked going out of business by the end of the year, with more than £300 million lost in box office revenue in the first 12 weeks of lockdown.

With the creative sector relying largely on the self-employed, MPs have called for an urgent review of existing support schemes and called for flexible, sector-specific versions of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) guaranteed for the creative industries until their work and income returns to sustainable levels.

Schemes should cover people who have been excluded to date, the report says, reflecting calls of WGGB and other unions and industry bodies who have been campaigning hard for an extension and expansion of the SEISS to support the estimated three million self-employed people who have fallen through the gaps.

Other recommendations include:

  • The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should listen to evidence submitted by WGGB and other unions and industry bodies and form a UK Creators Council as a mechanism for better dialogue with the creative workforce and to understand its needs and viewpoints as we emerge from the crisis.
  • Government should, no later than 1 August, publish ‘no earlier than’ dates for stage five of its plan to reopen performing arts venues. The Government’s recent announcement that venues can reopen on 1 August for indoor performances did not address the lead times for performance, the challenges of social distancing or the concerns about audience behaviours, and Government must do more to restart the performing arts, provide certainty and allow for forward planning.
  • Cut in VAT on ticket sales should be extended beyond January 2021, for the next three years while Theatre Tax Relief should be increased to 50% for the next three years.

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said: “The bleak picture that this report paints comes as no surprise – since the earliest days of lockdown our members have been telling us about the devastating effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on their income and livelihoods.

“We are pleased to see that DCMSC has listened to WGGB, our sister trade unions and other industry bodies, in some of its key recommendations to Government, and we welcome the proposed extension and expansion of SEISS to ensure no creative is left behind; a Creators Council to represent the freelance creative workforce at Government level via their creative trade unions and other member organisations; a proper roadmap for the reopening of arts venues; and fiscal measures such as tax relief and VAT exemptions to support the theatre sector, whose lights went dark almost overnight with little notice or indication of how they might come back on again.

“We look forward to working with Government on the detail of all these proposals. We will continue to campaign for the establishment of a New Commissions Fund in theatre – even when venues reopen and postponed productions are performed. A dedicated commissions fund is needed now to enable theatres/producers across the UK, who are likely to have become more risk averse, to continue to commission new, original work from writers.”

Read the full report.

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