Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that he will be providing a further £400m package to support the Arts, including museums, galleries and theatres. When Covid-19 arrived in 2020, it wreaked devastation upon not just a whole industry, but an entire sector of the economy. Tomorrow, Chancellor Sunak will unveil his first budget since the pandemic began a year ago. While widespread changes to tax, national insurance and those things which affect the pound in our pockets are not expected at this stage, the cost of furlough means that those will inevitably come in time, and that is a difficult prospect for those who have already been impacted by the sweeping changes of the past year.
Those most obviously impacted have been freelancers, including backstage crew, lighting, sound and a whole raft of creatives who have not been able to claim government funding or access support. Furlough has been a lifeline for many, and there are many in the Theatre industry who have benefitted from the scheme, but many more have now lost jobs, with wave after wave of redundancies in box office, front of house, catering and hospitality.
1,100 theatres are currently closed. Across the UK as a whole, 6m employees are hanging on through furlough, but at this stage no-one can predict how many of those jobs may not return. Theatres are eyeballing re-openings this summer, but what no-one knows is how quickly audiences will return, and how long confidence will take to rebuild. A complicating factor for West End theatres will be their reliance on what was previously a thriving tourist trade. Many in the travel industry have spoken about tourism not returning to pre-covid levels for several years – and that’s a very scary prospect.
What many audience members may not have realised as they settle down to enjoy a fabulous show like & Juliet or Phantom of the Opera, is how important jobs like Box Office were to many performers whilst between acting jobs, or, for many, when their stage careers might have ended. Sadly, some of those jobs will never return.
So, £400m of ‘fiscal firepower’ from the exchequer is certainly welcome – hugely so. But it is unlikely to reach all those who desperately need support. Most of those in our industry, hardest hit by the series of lockdowns, have lost an entire year’s work. Many have found other work – actors are no stranger to that. But what is concerning is how many may never return. The cost of that creative drain won’t become clear for some time.