A parliamentary inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on the arts sector has published a report summarising its findings, which warns that the pandemic is "the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure in a generation".
The report, from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, also claims that the government’s support package of £1.57 million took too long to come, resulting in redundancies that may otherwise have been avoided.
It states: "We welcome the government’s commitment to provide £1.57 billion in funding for our cultural and heritage sectors; however, whether it is enough to safeguard the cultural sector will ultimately depend on how long institutions remain closed or subject to social distancing, and we are concerned that freelancers and small companies will continue to fall through the gaps of government support. It is also regrettable that it took so long for the package to be announced, as the uncertainty inevitably led to closures and redundancies in the cultural sector that might otherwise have been avoided."
The cross-party committee has been gathering evidence about how the pandemic has been impacting sectors under its remit.
Recommendations in the report include for the introduction of flexible versions of the furlough scheme and self-employment income support scheme for the creative industries until work and pay returns to normal levels.
The cross-party committee also calls for the publication of ’no earlier dates’ for when performances will be allowed indoors and outdoors with a fuller audience by August 1 and to help address the "urgent need" for the sector to be covered by adequate insurance.
"In addition to the emergency funding already announced, the performing arts need a sector-specific recovery deal that includes continued workforce support measures, including enhanced measures for freelancers and small companies; clear, if conditional, timelines for reopening, and technological solutions to enable audiences to return without social distancing; and long-term structural support to rebuild audience figures and investment in time of economic uncertainty," it states.
Using evidence submitted to the inquiry by cultural organisations, the report looks at the impact Covid-19 has had in areas including the creative workforce, engagement work and digital offerings and analyses the support the industry has received so far.
• Support for the self-employed should be urgently reviewed and amended so that it covers people who have been excluded to date.
• To reduce uncertainty, the government must publish eligibility criteria for its £1.57 billion support package as soon as possible and ensure that the funding reaches recipients no later than October 2020
• When distributing the support package, the government must recognise the interconnected nature of the cultural sector and should not restrict support to well established, high profile, institutions
• Extend the VAT cut for ticket sales for theatre tickets for the next three years
• Increase Theatre Tax Relief to 50% for the next three years
• In allocating additional sector funding, the government must ensure support reaches cultural sectors and institutions that are in need, irrespective of whether they have previously received subsidy
• It must also ensure an equitable distribution of cultural resources across all parts of the UK—north and south, rural and urban—and support for black, Asian and minority ethnic and disabled artists and audiences
The report states: "The Covid-19 crisis presents the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure, institutions and workforce in a generation.
"The loss of performing arts institutions, and the vital work they do in communities by spreading the health and education benefits of cultural engagement, would undermine the aims of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and Arts Council England’s next 10-year strategy, and reverse decades of progress in cultural provision and diversity and inclusion that we cannot afford to lose."
The select committee also calls on the government’s Cultural Renewal Taskforce to co-ordinate cross-sector work on technological solutions for mass gatherings, "ensuring the sports and entertainment sectors work together, alongside NHS Test and Trace, to develop a universal, technological solution to enable the safe return of ticket holders to events."
Addressing the task force itself, it says it has been "slow to demonstrate meaningful progress".
"The fact it was only established two months after lockdown means valuable planning time for the return of live performance has been lost. Moreover, telling venues they can reopen with just a few days’ or weeks’ notice does not address the lead times for performance, the challenges of social distancing or the concerns about audience behaviours," it says.
The committee also calls on the government to "address the urgent need for the UK’s cultural industries to be covered by adequate insurance".
"Without it, efforts to resume filming, touring and live performance are doomed to failure. Alongside working with the insurance industry to introduce a long-term pandemic reinsurance scheme, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should establish an emergency fund to guarantee coverage for TV and film productions, stage productions, concerts and tours interrupted or abandoned due to Covid-19," it warns.
The report also claims the government must learn from Arts Council England’s emergency funding when it comes to distributing additional money.
"Support cannot be limited to organisations with a track record of public funding. Although recipients must be able to demonstrate they will use public monies appropriately, such a restrictive criterion risks excluding vital parts of the cultural ecology, including whole sectors that have historically had less engagement with funding bodies such as contemporary music, circus and amateur theatre," it states, adding: "In allocating additional sector funding, the government must ensure support reaches cultural sectors and institutions that are in need, irrespective of whether they have previously received subsidy. It must also ensure an equitable distribution of cultural resources across all parts of the UK—north and south, rural and urban—and support for BAME and disabled artists and audiences."