Theatre News

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden announces new renewal taskforce and further funding for charities

The Culture Secretary has announced plans for reopening the sector

The English National Ballet's Nutcracker
The English National Ballet's Nutcracker
© Laurent Liotardo

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has spoken at the Government's daily press briefing for the first time.

In his statement, Dowden did not mention any specific return dates for theatre or large-scale events. However, he did provide more information about a "Renewal Taskforce", made up of those in the arts, leisure and tourism sector aiming to help reopening venues and to guarantee the future of industries.

Dowden named the eight individuals that are part of the taskforce, including Nicholas Serota (chair of Arts Council England), Mark Cornell (Ambassador Theatre Group chief executive) Tamara Rojo (artistic director of English National Ballet), Olympian Alex Scott, former BBC and ITV chairman Lord Grade, and Martha Lane Fox from

He was sure to manage expectations, stating that, even though many are "eager" for a return of live sports and the arts, "normal life is a long way off, and the path to get there is a narrow one."

More information was also announced on the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, providing £200m for small- and medium-sized charities and social enterprises, which will be distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund.

The government has also announced that "£150 million from dormant bank and building society accounts is to be unlocked to help charities, social enterprises and individuals in vulnerable financial circumstances during the coronavirus outbreak." More information is available here.

Dowden added that: "One of the things we'll remember is the incredible contribution made by so many. We're delaying the Birthday Honours until the autumn, and Her Majesty the Queen will provide a knighthood for Captain Thomas Moore."

Yesterday the Chancellor Rishi Sunak spoke to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, providing a small degree of further insight into the future of the furlough scheme and financial support for certain sectors.

Sunak recognised the logistical difficulties that exist around reopening the leisure and hospitality industries (especially when social distancing measures are in place) but also that "it's critical for economic and social justice reasons that we find a way for them to get back to work."

For Sunak, "the single best way to help is to open those sectors" and he also stated that "we're working with various industry taskforces to find secure ways to reopen those types of businesses. We are seeing across Europe that this is already happening." Earlier this week, Italy announced plans to begin reopening cultural venues from next month.

Sunak downplayed the possibility of reopening parts of the country with a lower "R" rating (which traces the rate of contamination amongst the population) compared with others.

The job retention scheme will continue in its current form until the end of July, after which point it will be altered, with employers, in tandem with the government, expected to meet wages for furloughed employees. Some employees may be able to return on a part-time basis at this point.

Sunak has stated that the level of employer contribution will be revealed by the end of May. He didn't commit to having differing furlough schemes in place for different sectors: "I thought about a sectorial approach but in practice, it would be very hard to implement. Trying to understand a full supply chain for an industry and whether all businesses should be eligible or not, would in practice be difficult to evidence or enforce.

"What we did instead was have a more generous approach for everyone that lasted longer…we need to make sure the incentives are right, and to incentivise businesses to reopen."

At the moment, it is unsure when theatres or other large venues can feasibly reopen, with many in the arts voicing clear concerns about what will happen once the furlough scheme ends.