Minister forced to delete false tweet claiming Cornish theatre received Covid cash

14 June 2021, 12:12 | Updated: 14 June 2021, 12:37

Carrie Johnson among G7 partners attending musical at Cornwall’s Minack Theatre
Carrie Johnson among G7 partners attending musical at Cornwall’s Minack Theatre. Picture: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Culture secretary makes a blunder with untrue tweet claiming Cornwall’s treasured clifftop theatre, The Minack, benefited from government fund.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has been forced to delete an untrue tweet claiming Cornwall’s open-air clifftop theatre benefitted from the government’s COVID-19 arts fund.

Quote-tweeting First Lady Dr Jill Biden, Oliver Dowden said he was “delighted” that Biden and the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, “were able to visit the stunning Minack Theatre” as world leaders attend the G7 summit.

“This unique venue was one of more than 650 theatres helped through Covid with support from the £2bn Culture Recovery Fund, ensuring that it can entertain visitors for years to come,” he added in the now-deleted tweet.

The Minack Theatre, a picturesque outdoor venue at Porthcurno, swiftly replied to the minister’s gaffe saying: “Sorry @OliverDowden, but this is not true. We did not benefit from any CRF [Culture Recovery Fund] money as we were not eligible to apply.

“It turned out having a good level of cash reserves meant we had to fend for ourselves and utilise our own reserves.”

Read more: Dowden claims ‘EU rejected visa-free tours for musicians, not us’

Now-deleted tweet by Oliver Dowden falsely claims Minack Theatre received Covid cash
Now-deleted tweet by Oliver Dowden falsely claims Minack Theatre received Covid cash. Picture: Twitter

Dowden reportedly deleted the tweet two hours after publishing the false claim.

In reality, the theatre suffered huge financial losses in the pandemic. Executive director Zoe Curnow said last summer the venue lost more than half a million (£500,000) after being forced to operate at 30 percent capacity to allow social distancing.

Read more: Andrew Lloyd Webber ‘will risk being arrested’ to fully reopen theatres on 21 June

Curnow told The Guardian she was disappointed by the misinformation. “To try to score a political point is unfortunate, to be completely honest. Obviously the DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] didn’t think to check we were on the list.

“We’re a charity but operate in such a way that we generate a surplus most years. We’re very proud we exist without external funding and don’t go cap in hand to anyone.

“We weren’t on the list because we didn’t qualify, and we didn’t qualify because we run ourselves in such a way that we had enough reserves to see us through.”

Dowden has not tweeted a public apology but offered his regrets directly to Minack Theatre, who tweeted to confirm they “have accepted his apology”.

A DCMS spokesperson added: “Over 650 theatres have benefited from over £250m of support through our cultural recovery fund to date. A tweet was briefly issued in error that the Minack was one of them and we have now spoken directly to the theatre, who have accepted our apology.

“The Minack looked stunning yesterday as part of the G7 summit and we congratulate all at the theatre involved.”

Partners of G7 world leaders watched a musical about plastic pollution called Ocean World, performed by children from schools in west Cornwall.