The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will be standing up in the House of Commons early this afternoon (Wednesday, 23 March 2022) to deliver his Spring Statement. While it is not equivalent to the full annual Budget that is presented in the Autumn, given the financial pressures facing firms and families across the UK he is expected to announce some targeted policy interventions.
Figures released today show that prices are continuing to grow at their fastest pace since the 1990s. Inflation hit 6.2% in February and this is expected to continue to rise over the coming months as domestic and international pressures hit fuel, energy, and food costs. This will have a major impact on budgets – not only for venues and productions, but for audiences as well.
The theatre industry continues to recover from the unprecedented lockdowns and restrictions of the last two years.It is therefore vital that the Chancellor does not move to lift vital support systems too quickly and that the Government re-affirms its commitments to core manifesto pledges and enables our sector to ‘Build Back Better’ post-pandemic.
To that end, we have five key asks of the Treasury ahead of the Spring Statement:
1. Increase financial support for local authorities to fund culture
Culture is vital to the lifeblood of local communities – both economically and through its impact on mental health, well being, and increasing civic pride. Local authority investment in culture across England supports many venues to open their doors, productions to go on stage, and community projects to be delivered. Investment in culture has been on the decline, however, since 2010. Without consistent and increased local authority funding local culture will suffer.
2. Address the ‘cost of working’ crisis affecting venues and productions
Across the country, businesses are feeling the effects of increased prices for everything from energy running costs to haulage to raw materials such as timber. This has a massive impact on the viability of individual shows, touring productions, and venues themselves at a time when the economic recovery from the pandemic is underway. The Chancellor must introduce policies which will support the industry to weather these issues – particularly as we continue to feel the effects of the last two years of restrictions.
3. Introduce the Arts Premium as promised in the 2019 Manifesto
We welcomed the Government’s commitment to the Arts Premium as part of their 2019 Manifesto. The investment in the creative skills of young people not only enriches their education but plays a vital role in training up future generations of workers for the creative industries. It is vital that the Government reaffirms its commitment to providing secondary pupils with a well-rounded and properly funded education in the arts.
4. Negotiate post-Brexit trade deals which allow theatre to contribute to the UK’s soft power abroad
Theatre imports and exports talent and product from across the EU and further afield. There are still substantial outstanding issues which need to be resolved regarding funding, free movement of talent, and key related industries such as hauliers. If the Government is committed to culture as a core part of its Global Britain agenda then it must work to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.
5. Maintain the cultural VAT rate at 12.5% until at least March 2023
Given that the Government’s ambition is to restore the UK’s world class tourism sector to pre-COVID numbers by 2023, we call on the Treasury to keep the Cultural VAT rate at 12.5% until at least March 2023. This would allow theatres and productions to ease out of the impact of the pandemic, rather than another sharp rise after the rate changed from 5% to 12.5% in September 2021.
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