DCMS minister: 'We want to see full audiences return as soon as possible'

DCMS minister: 'We want to see full audiences return as soon as possible'

Minister for digital and culture Caroline Dinenage has insisted the government is "doing everything we can" to support the UK's live music industry, as MPs met to debate the impact of Covid-19 on the sector

Wrapping up Tuesday's (October 6) special Westminster Hall session - titled The Contribution Of Theatres, Live Music Venues And Other Cultural Attractions To The Local Economy - Dinenage pointed to the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, in addition to the £160 million emergency fund made available to struggling venues by Arts Council England at the outset of the pandemic.

"The government stand with the culture sector," she said. "We are doing everything we can. The funds will be used to help support the performing arts, theatres, museums, heritage, galleries, independent cinemas and live music venues across the country, and we are determined that every region of the UK should benefit."

We know the importance of protecting jobs and livelihoods in the creative arts sector

Caroline Dinenage, minister for digital and culture

A number of prominent live music executives have called on government to give a conditional restart date for full-capacity shows to return, but Dinenage stressed the decision would be dictated by the "public health context". 

"We are aware that many in the sector would like greater clarity on the potential transition to stage 5, given the planning that they need to do to remobilise and the lead-in time required for programming, casting and rehearsing," she said. "DCMS will continue to work with the sector to establish an appropriate pilot process for testing and return to stage 5 activity when appropriate, and we are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on its Moonshot project.

"We want to see full audiences return as soon as possible, but we have always been clear that moving to stage 5 will ultimately be determined by the public health context. We are working at pace with the sector on innovative proposals for how full audiences can return when it is safe to do so."

The 90-minute session came hours after Chancellor Rishi Sunak caused uproar among the music community after appearing to suggest people currently unable to work in the sector due to the pandemic should retrain. Sunak later clarified he was talking about employment generally.

"I can't pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis and that's why we've put a lot of resource into trying to create new opportunities," he told ITV News. "Can things happen in exactly the way they did? No. But everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality."

Nonetheless, Musicians' Union general secretary Horace Trubridge labelled Sunak's comments as "very disappointing".

"We know that our members’ jobs are entirely viable jobs – the only reason they are currently unable to work is because of the Government’s coronavirus restrictions," he said. “We have been working with the government to try to ensure that all musicians are able to get back to work safely as soon as possible. But as things stand 70% are currently unable to do more than a quarter of their usual work. In the meantime, we desperately need the Chancellor to expand the SEISS to cover more than 20% of monthly profits and plug the gaps that mean that 38% of musicians are ineligible for the wage support schemes.

“We also urge the Treasury and the DCMS to allow Arts Council England to distribute some of the £1.57 billion dedicated to culture to individual freelancers – as the devolved administrations have done in Wales and Scotland.”

The Chancellor’s statement occurred while 400 socially distanced musicians were gathering in Parliament Square, to call on the government to highlight the plight of the live business. Last month, Sunak announced the Jobs Support Scheme, designed to protect "viable" jobs, to replace the furlough scheme, which ends on October 31, but was criticised for offering no targeted support for struggling sectors such as live music.

However, speaking during the Westminster Hall debate, Dinenage said: "These are proper jobs; these are jobs that are vital. Indeed, the people doing these jobs can do something that very few other people in this world can do.

"We know the importance of protecting jobs and livelihoods in the creative arts sector. Through the furlough scheme we have protected 303,000 jobs, with claims totalling £1.47 billion. The self-employed income support scheme was taken up by 64% of eligible arts and entertainment workers, with grants totalling £153 million. The Chancellor has announced that the scheme will be extended. The universal credit system has been extended and made more generous, but we know that so many people are still falling through the gaps and are not being supported.

"The one thing that such people want to do, more than anything, is to get back to work. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund will help to do that. It will help to secure the future of the performing arts and live events sector, and it will help to protect jobs. However, the sector needs money in the meantime. That is why, to complement the Government funding, ACE has announced £95 million of additional support for individuals and freelancers. It is also opening another round of 'Developing your Creative Practice', which is an £18 million project to help individuals in the arts to develop new creative skills."

As revealed in last week's issue of Music Week, the UK's Concert Promoters Association (CPA) is bidding to convince the government to agree to underwrite a reinsurance scheme for next year's shows.

Conservative MP Nickie Aiken, who secured the debate, backed the plan. "I support the introduction of a government-backed insurance scheme for live music, theatre and performance to allow venues, producers and creators to proceed with developing projects in confidence that, should they not be able to do so, the government will support them," she said.

It follows the launch of a government-backed scheme earlier this summer worth half a billion pounds for domestic film and TV productions struggling to get coronavirus-related insurance.

"Members must understand that there is a high bar for intervention in the insurance market," responded Dinenage. "The film and TV restart scheme that we introduced worked because it was the absolute last barrier. We were 100% clear that access to insurance was the final remaining obstacle to them being able to reopen. We are looking at that for theatres, but to intervene, I need evidence that insurance is the only obstacle to opening the doors again."

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