Theatres ‘yet to see a penny’ of government’s £1.57bn emergency arts fund

5 October 2020, 12:48

Arts venues ‘yet to see a penny’ of government’s £1.57bn emergency arts fund
Arts venues ‘yet to see a penny’ of government’s £1.57bn emergency arts fund. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

In July, the government announced a widely-praised £1.57bn emergency fund to save the struggling arts sector. Three months on, theatres still haven’t received any money.

A delay to the government’s pledged £1.57bn emergency arts fund, set to be a lifeline for struggling venues, is leaving them on the brink of collapse.

None of the cash, announced back in July, has yet been delivered to any theatres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Many were expecting grants to be delivered last week by Arts Council England (ACE), who have apologised for the delay citing “the complexity and volume of applications”.

The grant application process, during which smaller to medium-sized venues applied for a portion from a £500m pot, officially closed on 4 September. For many venues, there is concern it is now simply too late.

Further redundancies in theatres and concert halls were made last week, and larger venues like the Royal Shakespeare Company have now entered redundancy consultations. Meanwhile, the Royal Opera House has just announced it is auctioning off a treasured David Hockney portrait in its fight to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Actor Leo Wan spoke out on Twitter about the delay, saying “theatres are yet to see a penny of that £1.57bn”.

Read more: Will the government’s £1.5 billion for the arts actually reach those in need? >

A tweet from ITV journalist Martin Stew shows a silent protest taking place this morning (5 October) outside London’s Gielgud Theatre.

Led by actor and comedian Jennifer Saunders, the protest is in support of “forgotten” performers and theatre staff.

Read more: Musicians express fury as arts jobs termed not ‘viable’ in pandemic >

The arts package has been widely criticised for hanging freelance artists, musicians, actors, dancers and backstage workers – who won’t receive any support from the fund, and many of whom haven’t been able to claim any of the SEISS fund – out to dry.

There is now just one month to go until the end of the furlough scheme and the beginning of the new ‘wage top-up’ scheme, which seemingly won’t make its way to many arts venues. Musicians and arts workers have expressed their fury that their jobs are termed not “viable”, and therefore not eligible for financial support, in the COVID-19 economy.

There is further anxiety surrounding which venues will receive a grant from the £500m pot. In July, the government said for applicants to be successful, they must produce an “innovative plan for how they will operate and be sustainable for the remainder of this financial year”, while also being able “to demonstrate their international, national or local significance”.

Arts Council England told The Guardian: “We understand this is an anxious time for many people and many organisations up and down the country. We apologise for the week’s delay in letting the first tranche of grants applicants know decisions, but we will still be able to get money to them this month.

“Given the volume and complexity of the applications that came through to this brand new fund, we’ve had to do additional due diligence to make sure money from the public purse is spent responsibly. We are working hard to get this much-needed funding out as quickly as possible, to those who need it most.”