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Entertainment sector hails lockdown easing as calls for further support renewed

·6-min read

Plans to lift coronavirus restrictions in England have been hailed by the entertainment industry as calls were renewed for the Government to provide additional support and guidance to the sector.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that England’s coronavirus restrictions are expected to be lifted on the so-called “freedom day” on July 19.

Mark Davyd, founder and chief executive of the Music Venue Trust charity, said he feels “oddly numb, like I almost can’t believe it” in a tweet following the announcement.

“Lots of work to do, but we might actually have made it through,” he added.

In an additional statement, Mr Davyd said the move is “obviously extremely welcome news for millions of music fans, for artists, crew, venues and local communities who have been deprived of live music for so long”.

Paul W Fleming, general secretary of actors’ union Equity, said the announcement was a “veneer of order atop a sea of chaos”.

He added: “The Government is privatising public health decisions by pushing them on to producers, venues and working people.

“There’s no word on insurances for theatre and live entertainment, and no meaningful guidance as to what a new testing and isolation regime should mean.

“Businessmen can now fly in and out of the UK unfettered, but British creatives working abroad can’t. There’s no word on extending SEISS (self-employment income support scheme), which barely covered the creative workforce.

“There’s no confidence that future lockdowns won’t happen and no strategy to engage the unions – or even the bosses – to figure out a back-up plan.”

Challenging Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, he added: “The pandemic of precarity is set to get worse. Equity wants to deal with it – does Dowden?”

The head of entertainment union Bectu welcomed the further easing of lockdown restrictions but said the cultural sector still faces “confusion” over some rules.

Philippa Childs said in a statement: “The end of social distancing restrictions is welcome news for theatres, venues and events that have been forced to close for over a year, but the continuing confusion over isolation rules and mask wearing means that it won’t be a return to business as usual on July 19.

“The Government must work to build public confidence in the safety of venues and understanding of the new guidance.

“With much of the sector set to lose two summers in a row of vital income, some bridging support will be crucial to avoid mass redundancies and ensure a successful recovery.”

West End Stock
So-called ‘freedom day’ is expected on July 19 (Ian West/PA)

Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said he was “thrilled for all involved in the nightlife sector” following the update from the Government but said ministers must ensure businesses remain supported.

He added: “We must recognise that with the crippling debt burdens accrued over the past 18 months, these same businesses will be fighting for their survival for the next three years at least.

“It is imperative that the Government continues to support the sectors most affected by this crisis in order to stave off a generation of unemployment and bankruptcy.”

Paul Reed, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, welcomed the announcement but called for a Government-backed insurance scheme.

However he said the move had come too late for a number of music festivals, adding: “We now urge Government to finally act on insurance and announce a Government-backed scheme immediately.

“Insurance remains the key obstacle to planning with confidence and there is no rationale for not implementing such a scheme if the Government’s road map is truly irreversible.”

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of UK Music, echoed calls for a Government-backed insurance scheme.

He tweeted: “Suggestions of restrictions being reintroduced in autumn/winter mean organisers won’t have confidence to plan events beyond summer. So it’s vital we get a gvt-backed insurance scheme to enable organisers to plan ahead without risk of financial ruin if restrictions reimposed.

“The insurance scheme Government introduced for the film and TV industry has been hugely successful and has saved countless jobs and businesses – we now need the same for the live events sector, otherwise we risk losing some festivals and music events forever.”

Julian Bird, chief executive of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said the announcement was “a lifeline” for the industry.

In a statement, Mr Bird added: “We welcome today’s confirmation that July 19 will see the lifting of remaining lockdown restrictions – meaning that theatres can open to full audiences for the first time in 16 months.

“This is a lifeline for our industry, essential for the survival of theatres across the country.

“We will be working closely with Government in the coming days on revising the performing arts guidelines, ensuring that our audiences and staff can feel safe and confident in returning.”

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said the news was “very welcome” but added: “Several shows that have recently reopened at reduced capacity have had to cancel suddenly when a cast or crew member has to self-isolate.

“We are encouraged that the Prime Minister mentioned that a different system would be introduced for people who are fully vaccinated, and look forward to hearing further details.”

James Williams, managing director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, called on the Government for clear guidance on concert hall safety.

He said: “Whilst the Government’s announcement advising that Covid restrictions will be lifted from July 19 gives us all the sense of hope we need, to date the Government has failed to provide the performing arts with a sustainable operational road map that will ensure the economic viability of performances and the safety of venues, artists and audiences.

“There is an important task to be done rebuilding public confidence and providing the necessary reassurance that returning to the concert hall and the enjoyment of live performances can be done safely.”

The manager of the Clapham Grand music venue in south London has warned that isolation rules could disrupt his business despite the easing of lockdown.

In a statement, Ally Wolf said: “We welcome the Government’s decision to reopen on July 19 with open arms but we are worried we won’t actually be able to do it with an open venue if something isn’t done about the isolation policy for people that are contacted through the track and trace app.

“We are currently seven members of staff down due to isolating. If we lose one more staff member, we won’t be able to open.”

Catherine Mallyon, executive director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said group was “delighted that the Government announcement feels the progress of the pandemic is such that they are trailing the likely easing of restrictions post-July 19”.

She added: “We are heading towards the opening of our new outdoor theatre, the Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre, and we look forward to receiving confirmation of the proposed changes.

“We know that our audiences want to return to live performances, and also that there is some nervousness about the full easing of restrictions.

“Our focus is to make sure that everybody is safe, and feels safe, when visiting the RSC, whilst planning for the return to full capacity so we can welcome more of our audiences back.”

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