Wednesday 24 June 2020 6:43 pm

Government mulls financial support for UK's ailing theatres

The UK government is in talks to support the performing arts industry, Downing Street confirmed today, amid growing concerns the sector is nearing collapse as a result of the coronavirus crisis. 

Number 10 today said it was working with senior figures from the theatre industry on a rescue package, as the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday that theatres will not be allowed to host live performances when they reopen cast doubt on the future of the sector.

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“We are talking to the arts sector and considering ways in which we might be able to support them in addition to the unprecedented financial assistance we’ve already given,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said.

 “We have given unprecedented levels of financial assistance already via government loans, the job retention scheme, and support has been given by the Arts Council as well,” Downing Street added. 

The government has reportedly tabled a loan scheme worth £1bn for the sector, the Financial Times reported, but Whitehall sources have suggested that any financial package will be significantly smaller. 

But according to a report published by The Off West End Theatre Awards, a cash injection of £9m would be enough to rescue 100 independent London fringe theatres from going insolvent this year.

Industry figures have warned that redundancies will remain on the horizon unless the government provides further economic support, after theatres were forced to shutter in March. 

Data published by the CEBR think tank last year showed that the UK’s arts and cultural industry contributes £11bn a year to the British economy and supports 363,700 jobs. 

Venues such as the National Theatre turned online to stream past performances during lockdown, but theatres have warned that substitutes for live performances are unviable.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently raking in around a quarter of its usual income, while others are taking in even less. Several theatres, including Leicester’s Haymarket and the Southport Theatre, have already gone into liquidation.

Research by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre suggested that 70 per cent of theatres will run out of money by the end of 2020 without further financial aid.

West End producer Cameron Mackintosh last week announced that some of his hit musicals including Hamilton, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, will not reopen until next year. 

He added that a lack of “tangible practical support” from the government risked further redundancies and placed the sector’s future in question.

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“This has forced me to take drastic steps to ensure that I have the resources for my business to survive and enable my shows and theatres to reopen next year when we are permitted to,” he said.

“Without our theatres being ablaze with life, London cannot properly reopen as one of the world’s greatest cities.”

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