Report Slams U.K. Government COVID Response to Cultural Sector

A new report by members of the U.K. Parliament has severely criticized the government’s “slow” response to the needs of the country’s cultural sector that is facing an “existential threat.”

The report, titled “The Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS Sectors,” compiled by a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, found it “regrettable” that it took so long for the government’s £1.57 billion ($1.96 billion) relief package to be announced. The uncertainty caused by the delay could lead to mass redundancies in the cultural sector, with 70% of theaters and production companies risking going out of business by the end of 2020 and more than £300 million ($381 million) in box office revenue was lost in the 12 weeks of lockdown, the report says. It also notes that grassroots music venues were also affected with estimates that 93% faced permanent closure and that 90% of all festivals would be canceled this year.

The report also raises the issue of the DCMS being one of the smallest government departments by both budget and staffing, and observes the high turnover of culture secretaries with incumbent Oliver Dowden being the ninth since May 2010.

“We are witnessing the biggest threat to our cultural landscape in a generation,” said committee chair, Julian Knight, who is a member of Parliament with the ruling Conservative party. “The failure of the government to act quickly has jeopardized the future of institutions that are part of our national life and the livelihoods of those who work for them.”

“Our report points to a department that has been treated as a ‘Cinderella’ by government when it comes to spending, despite the enormous contribution that the DCMS sectors make to the economy and job creation. We can see the damaging effect that has had on the robustness and ability of these areas to recover from the Covid crisis. The £1.57 billion support is welcome but for many help has come too late.”

The report calls for several measures to alleviate the situation, including an extension to the furlough scheme for affected businesses until mass gatherings are permitted; continued workforce support measures, including enhanced measures for freelancers and small companies; clear timelines for when businesses will be able to reopen, and technological solutions to enable audiences to return without social distancing; and new, sector-specific tax reliefs as well as an extended VAT cut for the sector.

“We urge the government to act on our recommendations, to recognize the value these sectors provide and imagine how much bleaker the outcome for all without their survival,” said Knight.

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