Attendees at the launch event of the Theatre APPG in Parliament
As the theatre industry emerges from lockdown, and our list of priorities increases, engaging with your local MP may seem like a daunting or distracting task. It can, however, be extremely beneficial to you and your organisation, especially in times of need. Public Affairs Manager, Christopher Walker, explains the benefits of political engagement and how you can make use of UK Theatre / SOLT’s member tools to make the process quick and easy and facilitate positive outcomes.
Although politics can tend towards the theatrical at times with its high stakes drama and occasional grandstanding, political engagement is not always high on the agenda for theatre managers, owners and producers. However, recent events have shown the importance of political lobbying, and how establishing positive relationships with potential political allies can help reap rewards. Recent examples of this include the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, created in response to political lobbying by SOLT/UK Theatre and other organisations, and announcements in the Autumn 2021 Budget regarding Theatre Tax Relief and business rates.
As the Public Affairs (AKA ‘advocacy’) Manager of UK Theatre / SOLT, most of my days are spent engaging with politicians and civil servants across the four nations. I lobby and engage in policy discussions at a national level on behalf of the interests and issues affecting our members, with the aim of creating impact on everything from Apprenticeships Levies to local authority funding.
While me engaging with politics at a national level is important, building your own relationship with your local MP can be extremely beneficial to you and your organisation. We know that many of you already have strong links to your local politicians and political leaders, but for those who don’t, we’d like to encourage you to do so as it can help your business and the sector in both good times and bad.
Politics plays a vital role in the day-to-day life of our industry - from overseeing the curriculum and funding for studying and upskilling, to determining the funding for Arts Councils, to decisions on taxation. The votes your MP casts in Parliament can have a direct impact on your next performance, your ability to offer employment and training, or access to funds.
This is why engaging with your local representatives, and in particular with your MP, is so important. Like with any professional relationship, it opens up a dialogue for you to raise issues and contribute ideas, and can often help get things resolved more quickly than a cold call when things have reached crisis point. It also helps to provide a local context and understanding that your MP can bring with them when considering how to vote on issues in the future.
‘Engagement’ in this context can take a lot of different forms. It could be a formal meeting; it could be a quick coffee; or it could be inviting them along to your annual panto or the opening night of one of your upcoming performances. There is no fixed formula for what works or what is most appropriate – and your MP’s constituency office team will be able to advise on what their boss would appreciate or have time for.
If you aren’t already in touch with your elected representatives, UK Theatre / SOLT members can download a template letter from the Members’ Area which can be adapted and used to request an initial meeting or issue an invitation to an event. You will also find access to documents and briefings to support your meetings.
As always, please let us know how you get on and what creative ideas you come up with to engage your local leaders. If you get any useful insights or feedback from your MP please do pass it on –political insight is always helpful and can inform our work on behalf of you and other members. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.