Boris Johnson unveils £1.5 billion rescue package for arts and heritage venues amid coronavirus crisis
London’s Old Vic theatre, which has been shut since March along with venues across the country. (PA)
The Government will pump £1.57bn of investment into the arts, culture and heritage sector in a bid to stave off closures in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Boris Johnson said the mixture of emergency grants and loans would “help safeguard the sector for future generations”, and comes after a string of venues warned they would collapse without government help as they are asked to keep their doors closed.
Thousands of organisations including theatres, museums, galleries, heritage sites, live music venues and independent cinemas will be eligible for help, in a package the Government says is “the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture”.
A £1.15bn support pot will be available for cultural organisations in England, with a mix of £880m in grants and £270m in repayable loans on “generous terms terms tailored for cultural institutions to ensure they are affordable”.
The devolved administrations will see an extra £188m in help, with Scottish venues receiving £97m, Wales benefiting from £59m and Northern Ireland being handed £33m.
The package meanwhile includes £120m in capital investment funding for venues to restart construction projects paused by the pandemic.
Labour welcomed the funding but warned that hard-hit venues “need this money really quickly”.
Unveiling the plans, the Prime Minister said: “From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK’s cultural industry is the beating heart of this country.
“This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden added: “I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations.
“Today we are announcing a huge support package of immediate funding to tackle the funding crisis they face. I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.”
The move has been welcomed by a host of cultural organisations, with Arts Council England chair Sir Nicholas Serota saying it represented a “very significant investment”.
He added: “I know our amazing artists and creative organisations will repay the faith that the government has shown by demonstrating the range of their creativity, by serving their communities and by helping the nation recover as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Playwright James Graham, who has been urging the Government to take action after a host of theatres announced redundancies and closures, said: "I am so incredibly grateful that the Government has listened to the outpouring of not only concerns but also of great passion from audiences and artists over the threat to a much-loved part of our national life.”
And he added: “In normal times, we are a profitable and world-beating industry, and we can be again. The scale and the ambition of this package is incredibly welcome and I have to say a huge relief to the hundreds of thousands of skilled workers (not to mention millions of audience members) who want to be able to get British culture back up and thriving as soon as it is safe to do so."
'WHAT TOOK THE GOVERNMENT SO LONG?'
Responding to the announcement, Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens told the BBC’s Westminster Hour: “We welcome obviously this injection of much-needed cash — but I do wonder what took the government so long.
“They have known the problems in the sector for weeks and weeks and weeks, and for some areas and some organisations and theatres across the country from north to south, it’s already too late — jobs have gone.
She added: “Lots of organisations need this money really quickly, many of them need it next week to survive because they’re right on the brink, so the big things will be: how quickly it’s going to get to people, how is it going to be spread around the country in towns and small cities?
“Arts and culture venues are so valuable to local economies, lots of jobs are dependent on that kind of cross-sector spending, particularly in hospitality."
Ms Stevens also called for more help for freelancers and the self-employed, who “dominate” the arts sector and are “struggling so badly”.