UK theatre groups have told ministers that more than £1bn in economic activity will be lost unless a Government-backed insurance scheme is introduced.
Senior figures from UK Theatre, Society of London Theatre, and trade unions BECTU and Equity signed a joint statement calling on the Government to make good on its promise that an insurance scheme would be implemented if it was the last barrier to market failure and once all other restrictions had been removed.
Following the end of Covid-19 restrictions in England on Monday, the theatre sector representatives said they are no closer to the introduction of an insurance scheme despite, in their words: “the insurance markets are emphatic that COVID-19 related interruption insurance is not commercially available and will not be until at least late 2022.”
In the statement, the groups said they estimate that without insurance the theatre sector will operate at between 35-50% below 2019 levels, with a direct economic impact of at least £507m and a further annual indirect effect of up to £850m on local economies.
The signatories said: “An insurance scheme will allow theatre producers and venues to: Secure investment for future productions & re-invigorate this world-leading sector; Keep investment onshore in the UK, rather than producers moving to open shows in offshore markets, where government support provides greater certainty to promote economic activity; Provide venues with the financial security to reopen at full capacity, benefiting local bars, restaurants and retailers who rely on a cultural offer to attract footfall.”
They said the scheme would also “provide performers and staff with the necessary financial support, even if productions or venues are closed; Mitigate the risks of a new challenge to the sector, the self-isolation ‘pingdemic,’ which has already caused many productions to cease performances and incur significant losses.”
Responding to a question in the House of Commons earlier this month, Secretary of State Oliver Dowden said that Government would step in to ensure the future of the sector.
“I very much understand the industry’s desire for insurance, and I have engaged with it,” Dowden said. “I have said all along that, as with film and TV insurance, the first step is to get all the other restrictions removed. We are making very good progress towards doing that on the 19th. At that point, if there is a market failure, namely that the commercial insurance providers cannot insure for that, we will look at whether we can extend insurance with some sort of Government-backed scheme.
“We are engaging extensively with the Treasury and other Government Departments to see what that might look like.”
The signatories added: “We urge the government to act now. We stand ready to offer all assistance in designing and implementing a viable scheme.”
On Monday, Lord Lloyd Webber, the head of LW Theatres, issued a blistering attack on the UK Government as performances of his new Cinderella musical were cancelled on the day West End theatres were meant to reopen for the first time in almost 18 months.