Yesterday (July 5th), the UK Government announced a long-awaited emergency support package for the arts sector. Overall a total of £1.57bn in the form of grants and backed-loans has been promised to ensure the sustained success of our “World-Class” arts sector.

Whilst this comes as a relief for many across the country, there is a small area of concern as to whether this staggering amount will prove to be enough for some institutions.

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Nuffield Southampton Theatre and John Hansard Gallery
Joint administrator for Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Greg Palfrey, said despite the package, there was no way to reverse the 86 redundancies already made. Photograph: Britpix/Alamy Stock Photo

The £1.57bn emergency arts fund announced by the government has come too late to save cultural institutions from going bust and hundreds of people from losing their jobs, industry figures have said.

Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) announced last week it would close permanently after potential buyers were unable to agree a deal with administrators.

The joint administrator for NST, Greg Palfrey, said that if the government’s support package had come a month ago the outcome might have been more positive, but at present there was no way to reverse the 86 redundancies.

Arts organisations have been appealing to the government for months to step in and help the industry during the coronavirus crisis. “If this package would have come out four weeks ago things might have been a bit different,” said Palfrey.

While other institutions in the sector praised the government’s aid package, they said it would not necessarily prevent more redundancies or closures.

The National Theatre said that although the package from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was “hugely welcome” there was still uncertainty over what level of support would be available to it and as a result “some reduction in our workforce will be unavoidable”.

A spokesperson for the theatre said that was because it was not yet clear when live performances could start again, and it expected the pandemic to have an impact on its earnings heading into 2021. On Friday, the NT announced that 400 staff, including 250 front-of-house workers, would not be kept on beyond August.

The Manchester Royal Exchange said it was too soon to say whether the emergency funding would allow it to cancel the redundancies it announced last week, which could affect up to 65% of its permanent roles. It is consulting with staff.

Palfrey said clarity on when organisations might be able to reopen was almost as important as money. “If you were a retailer you got to know when you were going to open some time ago. If you were a restaurateur or a publican you knew you could open from last Saturday. Regrettably with theatre, it’s still extremely difficult because they don’t know when they can reopen.”

Concern that many institutions would not be saved by the government’s intervention came as campaigners and unions called for the army of freelancers who make up the majority of Britain’s cultural workforce to be at the front of the queue to receive money through the arts recovery package.

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