Venues need larger audiences to stop arts sector collapse, Tory MP warns

Julian Knight said the next few months are ‘crucial' for the cultural and sporting sectors.

Venues need to be able to reopen with larger audiences in order to stop the cultural sector from “collapsing”, the Culture Secretary has been warned.

Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) select committee, said a “robust action plan” is needed for venues to welcome back more visitors.

In a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, the Conservative MP said the next few months will be “crucial” for ensuring the recovery of both the cultural and sporting sectors.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He wrote: “On September 8, the DCMS Committee took evidence from representatives of some of our leading theatre companies, festivals and performance venues.

“Their message was clear: getting venues back open with fuller audiences is imperative to stop these vital pillars of our cultural sector from collapsing.”

He added that the rising levels of coronavirus cases mean this will not be achieved immediately but work needs to be done to “enable the safe return of audiences at capacity once the country emerges from this second wave”.

“The next few months will be crucial to ensuring both the cultural and sporting sectors are able to recover from this crisis: even if venues and stadiums cannot reopen with fuller audiences immediately, the Government must explore innovative solutions now, so that they are equipped to do so as soon as the public health situation allows,” Mr Knight said.

MP portraits
Julian Knight has called for Government action (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

He added that Government action on a mass testing programme, which could allow for venues to operate with larger audiences, had been too slow.

Mr Knight also called for the furlough scheme to be extended for the arts sector.

“Otherwise, the arts face an imminent end to workforce support measures, while the emergency financial package for cultural institutions is not sufficient to secure their long-term viability or workers’ livelihoods,” he wrote.

A £1.57 billion support package for the arts has previously been announced by the Culture Secretary.

Socially distanced indoor performances have been able to take place since last month.

Capital FM Monster Mash Up with Voxi by Vodafone – London
(Matt Crossick/PA)

Phil Bowdery, chairman of the Concert Promoters Association, said Mr Knight’s intervention was “welcome”.

He added: “Today Rishi Sunak must provide the support that the UK’s live music industry desperately needs.

“Without real funding for our employees, freelancers and supporting businesses our industry simply won’t survive.”

In response to the letter, Lucy Noble, chair of the National Arenas Association, said: “While we cannot operate at full capacity, most of our shows cannot go ahead and an extension of support for our staff would be enormously welcomed.”

Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, backed the call for the Government to provide more support to the sector.

“The snail’s pace of processing applications for funding is not good enough and as we’ve consistently said the Chancellor needs to provide targeted support for struggling sectors,” she said.

“Culture is a key part of our national identity as well as an economic success story.

“Although it is temporarily unable to make any money during the pandemic, it could boom again with the right support at the right time.”

A DCMS spokeswoman said they are working “flat out” to support the performing arts sector and labelled the support package as “unprecedented”.

She added: “We have always been clear that moving forward with the performing arts road-map was dependent on the prevalence of Covid-19.

“Indoor performances can now take place with a socially distanced audience and we are working at pace with the sector, including LW Theatres and the Royal Albert Hall on innovative proposals for how full audiences can return when it is safe to do so.”

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