For more than a year, organisations from the live entertainment sector have been working with Government to develop an insurance proposal to protect businesses as they emerge from the pandemic. This insurance would provide venues, producers, and performers the certainty of a financial safety net should COVID-19 measures impact on the viability of live entertainment.
Theatre sector employers, represented by the Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre, alongside employees and freelancers, represented by Equity, the Musicians’ Union and BECTU, have been providing evidence to DCMS on the benefits and protections COVID-19 insurance would offer the theatre sector when it opens at Stage 4 of the Covid roadmap. We have made ourselves available to government ministers and officials to aid them in designing a viable scheme.
We have also been discussing options with commercial insurers. The insurance markets are emphatic that COVID-19 related interruption insurance is not commercially available and will not be until at least late 2022.
In our discussions with Government, we were initially told that an insurance scheme would only be implemented if it was the last barrier to market failure. More recently, we were told insurance would only be offered when all other restrictions had been removed.
Responding to a question in the House of Commons on 1 July 2021, Secretary of State Oliver Dowden said:
I very much understand the industry’s desire for insurance, and I have engaged with it. I have said all along that, as with film and TV insurance, the first step is to get all the other restrictions removed. We are making very good progress towards doing that on the 19th. At that point, if there is a market failure, namely that the commercial insurance providers cannot insure for that, we will look at whether we can extend insurance with some sort of Government-backed scheme. We are engaging extensively with the Treasury and other Government Departments to see what that might look like.
As of yesterday, 19 July 2021, the last of the existing restrictions have been removed, and we are still no closer to a viable scheme, remaining at significant risk of market failure.
It is clear that this Government has not acted with the haste they promised and have let down a vital industry, which, pre-pandemic, directly and indirectly generated approximately £1 billion per annum in VAT revenue for HM Treasury.
An insurance scheme will allow theatre producers and venues to:
Secure investment for future productions & re-invigorate this world-leading sector
Keep investment onshore in the UK, rather than producers moving to open shows in offshore markets, where government support provides greater certainty to promote economic activity
Provide venues with the financial security to reopen at full capacity, benefiting local bars, restaurants and retailers who rely on a cultural offer to attract footfall
Provide performers and staff with the necessary financial support, even if productions or venues are closed
Mitigate the risks of a new challenge to the sector, the self-isolation ‘pingdemic,’ which has already caused many productions to cease performances and incur significant losses
Without insurance, SOLT & UK Theatre estimate that the theatre sector will operate at between 35-50% below 2019 levels, with a direct economic impact of £507m -£725m pa, and a further £659m - £850m p.a. indirect effect on local economies, particularly in the city centres. With an estimated workforce of 200,000, of which 70% are freelance, and 55% are employed outside of London and the South East, the impact of this lack of activity on our workforce and our ability to support the government’s 'levelling up' agenda cannot be understated.
As a sector, we have welcomed the Government's support so far through this crisis: the Culture Recovery Fund, furlough, and generous loan schemes have all helped the industry survive to see Step 4, but without decisive action on insurance, it may not survive beyond it. We urge the government to act now. We stand ready to offer all assistance in designing and implementing a viable scheme.
UK Theatre: Fiona Allan, President
Society of London Theatre: Eleanor Lloyd, President
UK Theatre & Society of London Theatre: Julian Bird, Chief Executive Officer
BECTU: Philippa Childs, Head of BECTU
Equity: Paul W Fleming, General Secretary
The Musicians’ Union: Horace Trubridge, General Secretary
Writers Guild of Great Britain – The Writers Union: Ellie Peers, General Secretary
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Date Published: 20 July 2021