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News: The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre outline practical solutions to support the theatre industry

The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre outline practical solutions to support the theatre industry

A warning has been issued by UK Theatre on behalf of all its members, including the Newcastle Theatre Royal.

The current situation has had a devastating impact on the theatre sector. Theatres employ over 290,000 people in the UK and currently over 70% of those jobs are at risk and many theatres are facing a perilous future. Currently we have no audience and no income. We need help to sustain our workforce, support theatre recovery and safeguard the industry for the future. Many organisations, including Theatre Royal, will struggle to survive, even with measures to support their workforce.

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre have said that they look forward to continuing to work with the government, following the submission of a paper to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) outlining practical solutions to support the theatre industry as our venues warn of closures and financial difficulties.

SOLT and UK Theatre compiled evidence from across the sector on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the theatre industry and submitted a paper to DCMS laying out what the sector needs to survive.   Coinciding with the first meeting of the newly created Entertainment and Events Working Group, the submission details the investment  that the theatre industry needs to sustain our workforce, encourage growth and recovery and safeguard our sector.    Theatre and the performing arts play a huge role in enriching our national identity, our economy and our local communities.  

More people see a theatre show each year than attend all League football matches in the whole of the UK.

In 2018, venues represented by The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre generated ticket revenue of £1.28 billion, employing 290,000 workers. Over 70% of those jobs are now at risk. 

Amidst warnings from venues that 70% of theatres will run out of cash by the end of the year, this paper presents the urgent measures needed to restart the performing arts sector. It calls for moves to:   Sustain the workforce, through the continuation and development of the Job Retention Scheme and a new package to support the army of freelancers and self-employed artists who create so much of our work.  

Support theatre recovery, through adaptations to the existing theatre production tax relief scheme, support for businesses that supply theatres, and aid with making venues Covid-19 secure.   Safeguard the future of the theatre industry, through an Emergency Relief Fund and the creation of a new Cultural Investment Participation Scheme for the sector from government: a national pledge for culture.

Theatre generates £133m in VAT payments for HM Treasury in London alone. We want the government to invest in our sector so we can continue to play our vital role in Britain’s future success and help the UK’s recovery.

SOLT and UK Theatre look forward to continuing to work with the government and to providing more detailed evidence to the DCMS to move forward in strategic measures to support British theatre and allow it to re-open successfully.

The suggested solutions in more detail

1.   Sustain our workforce
·        Extend the job retention scheme to October for the theatre industry fully funded by the government, as theatre organisations cannot afford to contribute with zero income for months.
·        Identify a unified scheme to support freelancers, many of whom have been unable to claim through the current Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and have been relying on theatrical charities for emergency relief.  
2.   Support theatre recovery
·        Temporarily extend Theatre Tax Relief, which already encourages investment in theatre productions, and could help recovery.
·        Mitigate risk in terms of insurance and liability - only 12% of surveyed organisations believe they will be able to get the insurance they need to re-open.
·        Support the thousands of small companies that supply and depend on theatre, from set and costume makers to workshops to casting directors as well as technological suppliers.
·        Help fund theatres in creating Covid-19 secure venues, which will require investing in health and safety precautions like PPE, toilet facility changes and increased costs of working. 
3.   Safeguard the industry for the future
·        Many organisations will struggle to survive, even with measures to support their workforce. Urgent needs might be addressed by some of the following:
·        An Emergency Rescue Fund that works across the whole sector.
·        Cultural Investment Participation Scheme (CIPS) - many charities are unable to take out loans and existing loan structures are more broadly not fit for our sector; this alternative scheme would allow both charitable and commercial organisations to re-establish and enable the government to invest and be part of the sector’s future success. 
·        Assist local authorities who support local theatre, as any reduction in leisure budgets will lead to more pressure on regional theatres.

Industry Facts & Figures
·       The combined box office income of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre’s membership was more than £1.28 billion across London and the rest of the UK, with 34 million tickets sold in 2018.
·        Tourism and the night-time economy:
·        Around 37,000 people see a show in the West End every night
·        Overseas visitors make up nearly ¼ of audience members.
·        Loss to HMT of VAT payments (over £130mn for West End theatres alone) plus enormous economic impact on all related hospitality and related businesses – multiplier estimated at 5-6 times in major cities – if theatres are forced to shut down permanently.
·        London accounts for 47% of all theatre performances in the UK and 43% of theatre venues across England[1]
·        The UK’s theatre industry plays a key economic, social and place-making role. Theatre and the performing arts make a powerful contribution to our society and to our national identity. They make areas richer culturally and financially, and they make places more attractive to live and work. Much innovation takes place in the regions, for example HOME in Manchester was the first arts organisation (and therefore theatre) in the world to have 100% of staff trained in climate literacy.
·        Theatre is a major UK export internationally (productions, staffing and licensing) and contributes to the UK’s soft power; from The Ferryman on Broadway, to English Touring Theatre’s Othello at the Dubai Opera House, to the Curve theatre Leicester’s production of Grease in Dubai, are just a few examples.
·        Our talent creates some of the most recognisable and bankable international hits in film and TV, but all the initial support happens in theatre, for instance Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Fleabag or Peter Morgan and The Crown.
·        SOLT and UK Theatre work with theatres on how to best fulfill requirements for patrons with access needs, as well as encouraging access to theatre for young and diverse theatre goers. We also support theatre workforces through training and career development, including addressing skills shortages, entry routes, in career training and inclusivity.
·        Further reading for wider context: Analysis of Theatre in England (Arts Council)

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