Theatre leaders have warned that the phasing out of the government’s furlough scheme will see the industry “destroyed”, leading to mass redundancies and closures.
Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak confirmed last week that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has allowed businesses to claim up to 80% of wages for employees who are put on paid leave, will finish at the end of October.
The scheme will be phased out, with employers having to pay National Insurance and pension contributions from August, then 10% of wages for furloughed employees from September, rising to 20% from October.
BECTU warned that the changes would lead to "mass redundancies in theatre". It comes as the union claims around 30 theatres are already considering making redundancies as they fight for survival in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Theatres warning of the consequences of ending the scheme include Theatr Clwyd and the Nottingham Playhouse.
Theatr Clwyd bosses Tamara Harvey and Liam Evans-Ford told The Stage: "If the scheme ends in October - and theatres in a more precarious position than us have to contribute a greater percentage before then - it will be devastating to our industry.
"It’s impossible for theatres as employers to contribute when 100% of our earned income has disappeared. Every inch of support from the government buys us a greater chance of survival. Without it, theatre in the UK will be destroyed."
London’s Bush Theatre artistic director Lynette Linton called on the government to extend the furlough scheme and its Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which the government announced will close with a final grant in August.
She said: "Both the job retention scheme - which is nothing short of a lifeline for us - and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme have been crucial to sustaining our workforce until now. It is important that this support does not dwindle.
"Forty percent of our income comes from ticket and bar sales, so reducing this support before we can reopen leaves us and the wider sector dangerously vulnerable."
Nottingham Playhouse chief executive Stephanie Sirr also described the furlough scheme as a lifeline for the industry. "We currently have no audience at all and probably [will not be able to have one] of any economic size before the scheme is phased out," she said.
"For the sake of possibly a couple of months of both schemes for our sector, at minimal additional cost, so many employed and freelance livelihoods are now at stake."
Writing in the I, Theatre Royal Stratford East chair Margaret Hodge warned that rolling back government support for jobs would “sound the death knell for the performing arts”.
“Theatres, concert halls and dance venues face a catastrophic existential threat,” she said.
Hodge added: "If government pulls the plug and we can’t open our doors because of social distancing rules, many theatres will be forced to close."
Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan also warned of widespread closures unless more government support was provided for the sector.
He said: "Four theatre operators have already gone into administration since the lockdown began. Unfortunately, we expect this number to rise rapidly unless the government provides urgent support for the sector.”
"While tapering of the furlough scheme makes sense in other parts of the economy as businesses reopen, theatres remain closed and the majority will be unable to operate viably with social distancing measures in place."
Meanwhile, Equity general secretary Christine Payne said the move “represents a massive threat to the £111 billion we contribute to the economy”.