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Government's roadmap to reopening: arts figures respond to new plan

There is hesitant optimism among the theatre community

People watching a play

Industry figures have responded to yesterday's announcement regarding plans for reopening society.

Peter Heath, Managing Director of PLASA, and the #WeMakeEvents steering committee group member said: We welcome the Prime Minister's statement on a national roadmap to recovery and hope these measures will help plan the return of live events by June. While the steps are positive, our sector needs more detail and we urge the government to extend their support during the upcoming budget to stop the current talent drain and ensure that the supply chain can return. For this to happen we government-backed insurance for events, support for the self-employed, and grants, not loans for a supply chain that has had little-to-nothing for over a year."

The calls for a government-backed insurance plan were backed by Selladoor's David Hutchinson, who said: "It is now crucial that Rishi Sunak announces a package of sector specific recovery support to help theatres and productions get back on their feet again as part of his budget next week." Measures Hutchinson highlights include a job support scheme extension, an extension to business rate holidays and a doubling of the Theatre Tax Relief scheme.

Duncan Bell, #WeMakeEvents steering group member, said: :We welcome today's announcement of a roadmap as a positive step forward, but it is a road map to come out of lockdown not a road map for re-opening. For those working in the live events industry, we must stress the need for more detail."

Jon Morgan of the Theatres Trust said: "Theatres Trust welcomes the Prime Minister's announcement of a ‘not before' date of 17 May for theatres to reopen with social distancing and capacity limits, but we recognise that this will be subject to the Covid data nearer the time. We also recognise that this means that many theatres, who cannot operate viably with lower audiences under social distancing, will need to wait longer before reopening.

We urge the Chancellor to continue with the financial support packages needed for businesses and individuals

"Theatres Trust supports the government's cautious approach to easing lockdown restrictions. We want to play our part in helping keep people safe and we do not want to be in a situation where theatres reopen too early only to be forced to close again after a short period.

"The Job Retention Scheme and the Culture Recovery Fund have provided vital support for the sector so far. We are pleased to hear that the government is committed to continued support to protect jobs. It is important that this is targeted to reflect the differing realities for different sectors depending on where they are on the reopening roadmap.

"The theatre sector continues to work with the government to establish as clear a pathway as possible to reopening and to identify any mitigating measures that would allow a return to full audiences.

Julian Bird, chief executive of SOLT and UK Theatre said: "We welcome the Government's roadmap announcement as the country takes the first steps towards easing lockdown – in particular, the news that theatre and live arts can resume performances for Step 3 with social distancing, potentially as early as 17 May. The real route back for the sector will be the Step 4 announcements hopefully enabling full auditoriums from 21 June.

"These dates are still subject to change, however, and even once confirmed it will take time for many of our theatres and productions to get back up and running. While they remain closed and as they return to full operation, we urge the Chancellor to continue with the financial support packages needed for businesses and individuals."

Eleanor Lloyd, president of SOLT, added: "The detailed document issued by government contains significant caveats for the target dates to be met and crucially those dates will only be confirmed one week in advance.

"Most West End shows need several months and significant financial investment to remount so I think it is likely that the re-opening of the West End will take place over the months following the green light being given."

Many were also dismayed by the news that retail, hairdressers, spas and other close contact services can all open ahead of theatres, despite the fact that theatres have spent thousands proving they are safe environments for socially distanced audiences.

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