The UK Government has been urged to provide immediate assistance to entertainment and hospitality businesses after the end of social distancing measures were delayed for at least a month.
Trade groups, companies, venues and individuals have expressed concerns that the extension on restrictions will lead to closures and job losses unless extra support is allocated. Calls for assistance in the form of insurance schemes and an extension of business rates and VAT relief and furlough payments have been amplified due to the delay.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday evening that the planned reopening on June 21 – first announced as part of the UK’s roadmap out of COVID measures in February – has been put back to at least July 19 due to rising case numbers and a desire to vaccinate more people before sanctioning an end to social distancing measures and capacity restrictions.
The announcement came despite warnings concerning the potential impact on the economy, with Music Venue Trust last week submitting a report that predicted “mass closures” of grassroots venues, while theatre impresario Lord Lloyd Webber declared he would begin legal proceedings if the restrictions continue beyond June 21.
A number of festivals have already been cancelled since the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday evening with theatre shows also called off due to the continuation of capacity restrictions that make them economically viable. Sports fixtures will also be impacted, with the remaining Euro 2020 games at Wembley Stadium now likely to be played in front of reduced capacities unless they are sanctioned as test events.
Julian Bird, chief executive of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said the delay will have “serious implications” for live entertainment venues and performing companies around the country. He called for greater support for affected theatre organisations, such as a tailored insurance scheme, allocating the remainder of the Cultural Recovery Fund and extending full furlough and the business rates holiday.
“This delay not only impacts productions and theatres preparing to open in the next few weeks, but also shows currently running socially distanced, which had planned to increase their capacity – and producers making the difficult decision whether to start rehearsals for shows due to open in late July or August, with thousands of jobs hanging in the balance,” Bird said.
“Particularly at risk are large-scale commercial productions, which have received little or no Cultural Recovery Fund support and cannot survive under social distancing.
“We need Government to confirm as soon as possible that restrictions will be lifted by 19 July – a clear, irreversible reopening date will boost audience confidence at a time when it is vital theatre fans support the industry they love.”
Bird added that the theatre sector has protections in place to ensure the safety of patrons as soon as they reopen in full. Indoor venues are currently restricted to 50-per-cent capacity.
He added: “Once theatres are given the go-ahead to fully return, we will continue to implement industry-wide ‘See It Safely’ measures including enhanced cleaning, one-way systems, contactless ticketing and security, and the wearing of masks if required.”
UK Music has called on the Government to take steps in a number of key areas including an extension of the Business Rate Relief scheme until April 2022, a continuation of the temporary five per cent reduced rate of VAT on hospitality and admission to certain events until April 2022, and extension to furlough scheme and Government support for self-employed.
UK Music chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin highlighted the delay as “crystal clear evidence of the urgent need for a Government-backed insurance scheme” to help save what remained of this summer’s calendar of festivals, concerts and other live events. According to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), a five-week delay will result in 86 per cent of festivals not being able to take place in 2021.
“There is a very real risk now of permanent damage to our sector in terms of a loss of talent and expertise – the live industry has warned there are 5,000 shows at risk of collapse, 250 grassroots music venues at risk of eviction and losses running at hundreds of millions of pounds,” he said.
“This delay is particularly disappointing because of the lengths to which the music industry has gone to reduce the risk of transmission and develop effective safe working protocols. We worked with the Government on the recent pilot events, which were a huge success and saw just a handful of Covid-19 cases among the 58,000 people who attended.”