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Furlough scheme extension ‘came too late for some in the culture sector’

Tom Horton, PA
·4-min read

Job losses in the cultural sector and night-time economy could have been avoided if businesses had been given more warning about the furlough scheme extension, industry figures have said.

On Thursday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the scheme would now continue until the end of March after initially resisting calls for it to be continued.

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said the announcement is “fantastic news” for theatres, but job losses “could have been avoided” if venues had previously known they would be in line for support throughout the winter.

The Old Vic
Theatres have been hit hard by coronavirus (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“The earlier these things are announced, obviously the better,” he told the PA news agency.

Despite the problems caused by the delay, Mr Morgan said the furlough extension is welcomed by the industry.

He said: “The extension of the job retention scheme is fantastic because when lockdown lifts, some theatres will reopen with social distancing, but really on a loss-leader basis, it is not a long-term solution.

“The vast majority will remain closed and this is going to help them survive during that period until we get to that point where theatres can start to perform to large enough audiences, not necessarily full capacity, but large enough to be able to break even and run viably.”

In August the media union Bectu estimated there had been 5,000 coronavirus-related job losses in the theatre industry.

The furlough scheme pays 80% of wages up to £2,500-a-month and was originally supposed to end in October.

Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord said the extension had been announced too late.

If the action had been taken six weeks ago they could have saved “many, many businesses” and jobs, he told PA.

“When you start a redundancy process, you can’t just phone somebody up and say you are redundant as of tomorrow.

“You have to go through a process, it can take two to maybe a few more weeks and with furlough originally coming to an end this weekend just gone… sadly for many they are now redundant and quite a few people I have spoken to in the last couple of weeks find it a bit of a slap in the face if I’m being honest.”

Lord, who also co-founded the Parklife music festival, added: “It is great but for many it does feel very, very late.”

The extension of the furlough scheme has been welcomed by theatres
The extension of the furlough scheme has been welcomed by theatres (Martin Crossick/PA)

Mark Da Vanzo, CEO of the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse theatres, also said it would have been helpful to have had more warning about the extension.

“I think it would have been good to know a little earlier, just so it connected up because the current furlough ended at the end of October.

“So I think it would have been good to know earlier but ultimately from our point of view as an employer, it is good whenever it has come.

“At least it has come.”

The furlough extension was welcomed by trade body UK Music’s chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin.

In a statement, he said: “The music industry has expressed concerns about the level of support on offer – and so the Chancellor deserves enormous credit for listening to those concerns and taking action.

“Today’s announcement will give businesses the certainty they need so they can plan for the next few months and the extension of the furlough scheme will be welcome news to many in the music industry.

“However, there are still many self-employed workers in our sector who have fallen through the cracks and been ineligible for support. We are braced for the impact of Covid-19 to continue for many months, and so those people will need help.

“Our overriding priority is to help support the 190,000 people in the music industry workforce, so our sector can get back on its feet as quickly as possible and continue contributing billions of pounds to the economy.”

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Sunak said: “We’re dealing with a fast-moving health crisis first and foremost, and I think it’s reasonable and right that when the health situation changes and new restrictions need to be put in place, that our economic response, adapts and evolves alongside that.”

The Government is currently distributing a £1.57 billion funding package to the arts.