The entertainment industry seems to be in the government’s blind spot. Theatres and charities like ours are falling through the cracks. This huge sector employs thousands and is now facing innumerable job losses, with many venues already insolvent.
Ahead of the government’s announcement of forced closures, we took the decision to close our doors last Friday until May, but are making plans to cover closure until September, assuming that a lock down will be enforced until then.
The package now offered by government puts theatres in a curious position. It appears to protect staff, as a company can now put some employees on furlough, with them receiving 80% of their full pay from the government. The rest of the work force will then work from home to keep the business running.
However, the company could say that they only need their retained staff to work drastically reduced hours, so would only offer reduced pay to reflect the reduction in hours. This means those working will actually be worse off than those not, which seems unfair. It’s a very complex equation and the government needs to offer more guidance for both employers and employees.
We also have a number of zero-hours casual staff not covered by the current guidelines; these people, along with millions of others who are self-employed, will require the same support as those with full-time contracts and set weekly hours.
There is still so much ambiguity surrounding how the government’s proposed support can be implemented. We are finding it difficult to apply for the £25,000 grant announced, as it’s unclear where to go to make a claim; not even our accountants know.
How will we protect the people this will really effect day to day – the staff – who are backbone of theatres across the country? What provisions will be put in place if we all have to stay closed for three, six or even 12 months?
There is a lot of goodwill in this industry and I really hope everyone pulls together alongside the government to ensure that we can actually all open our doors again when the time arises.
We will be paying our staff in full for April and we need to retain staff for when we re-open, but we are facing the reality of redundancies if the crisis goes on further.
It’s unclear if HMRC will decide that if a company has cash reserves it must cover wages first, before claiming payroll support. This would mean a company having to exhaust all its resources and not reserve any funds to enable it to start up again when the worst of the pandemic passes.
Our big annual show is of course the pantomime, which is a major source of revenue, and our lifeline depends on it. We will need to reserve cash in order to put one on this year and give us the chance to stand on our own two feet after all this.
It’s due to kick off on December 5, but we may well have to extend the run from four to six or seven weeks to help us recoup lost revenue. Our box office is still open and even selling panto tickets. If we are unable to host a panto in 2020, it could be disastrous for us.
The producers we work with have demonstrated fantastic support and understanding in having to reschedule all shows and most customers have been happy to keep their tickets for a new date. It’s heart-warming to see this kind of cooperation.
We are joining the calls for a consortium, not just locally, but across the UK to protect this vital industry. Obviously, our £4.9 million redevelopment plans will now be severely delayed, but we are confident that due to the sterling work we’ve been doing these past few years, the King’s Theatre will still be standing when this unprecedented time of uncertainty is over.
Paul Woolf is chief executive of the King’s Theatre Trust, Portsmouth