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UK government announces £1.57 billion support package for creative industries

By | Published on Monday 6 July 2020

Empty Seats - Theatre

The UK government has announced a £1.57 billion support package to help the creative industries survive the COVID-19 crisis. This comes after countless pleas for help from across the collapsing sector since, uh, well, March.

Warnings that the wider creative and cultural industries – in particular anything involving live performance – would struggle to survive being out of action for a few months, let alone the rest of the year, have come ever since the beginning of lockdown.

Live entertainment was pretty much the first industry to be shut down by COVID-19 and it will be one of the last to return. While many initially hoped that things might only be put on hold for a month or two, it has become increasingly apparent that it’s unlikely things will get back to anything like normal this year.

Despite weekly and, as time went by, daily pleas for help from across the creative industries, the government had previously shown very little inclination it would step in. Late last month it did publish a ‘roadmap’ for getting live entertainment back up and running. But that was widely derided, due to it offering no actual timescales and mainly just telling everyone working in those businesses what they already knew would need to happen.

Now the government has finally acted, offering emergency grants and loans to organisations across all sections of the performing arts.

While non-classical music isn’t always included when the government talks about “the arts”, this time it is. Or, at least, music venues are definitely included. As are museums, galleries, cinemas and the heritage industry – so historic places and suchlike. Which means that, while £1.57 billion seems like a very big number, there will a lot of organisations seeking their share.

Though, to be fair, the £1.57 billion spend now puts the UK ahead of other countries in terms of its commitment to helping the arts survive COVID. Which is good. Even if, arguably, the same government’s shambolic management of the pandemic has probably extended how long the creative industries will be affected by shutdown.

Announcing the support package late last night, Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson said: “From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK’s cultural industry is the beating heart of this country. This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden added: “Our arts and culture are the soul of our nation. They make our country great and are the lynchpin of our world-beating and fast growing creative industries. I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations. Today we are announcing a huge support package of immediate funding to tackle the funding crisis they face. I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment”.

Meanwhile, the man responsible for actually writing the cheque, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our world-renowned galleries, museums, heritage sites, music venues and independent cinemas are not only critical to keeping our economy thriving, employing more than 700,000 people, they’re the lifeblood of British culture. That’s why we’re giving them the vital cash they need to safeguard their survival, helping to protect jobs and ensuring that they can continue to provide the sights and sounds that Britain is famous for”.

So, they basically all said the same thing, but it’s nice to give them all their moment in the limelight I suppose. What is actually on offer though?

Well, there will be £270 million made available for repayable finance, while £880 million will be handed out as straight-up grants.

In England, £100 million will also be earmarked for national cultural institutions and the English Heritage Trust, and a further £120 million will be invested in culture-related construction and infrastructure projects that were put on hold due to the pandemic.

Elsewhere in the UK, Scotland will receive £97 million to specifically support its creative industries, with Wales getting £59 million and Northern Ireland £33 million.

Quite how much of this will benefit the music industry remains to be seen. As noted, music venues are specifically listed as beneficiaries. The Music Venue Trust has previously said that the country’s grassroots venue network needs £50 million to survive the next few months. Whether promoters, festivals, other live music businesses – not to mention artists, managers and crew – will also be able to access support it as yet unclear.

The scheme is set to open for applications “in the coming weeks”, and further details of exactly what is on offer and who can apply will be published as we get closer to that time.