Leading experts in the North-East have called on the government to do more to assist the entertainment and culture sectors.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a series of measures to support businesses which have been closed to audiences since lockdown started in March.

But companies and councils across Wearside have called for additional support and funding to ensure the industry survives post-Covid-19.

Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer done enough to help the entertainment industry and can he do more?

Councillor Simon Henig, leader Durham County Council, chair the North East Culture Partnership and Association of North East Councils, representing leaders and elected mayors of 12 local authorities

I have written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden MP, as chair of the NECP.

Our key message is that funding must support the whole cultural sector ecosystem – not just large organisations, although these are important.

The best way to ensure this is for funds to be managed locally, rather than nationally. A good example is the way local authorities have managed to get business grants distributed quickly.

We want to make the case for regional investment from the DCMS £1.57 billion support package for our cultural organisations and the many creative practitioners in the North East.

We would welcome a process where the funding is devolved to ensure that it benefits the sector and local communities as quickly as possible to enable us to sustain and grow our important cultural offer.”

Cultural venues and organisations make an immeasurable contribution to our region, boosting our economy, attracting visitors and adding to the vibrancy of our communities.

However, the NECP Culture Recovery Plan has shown that theatres and music venues in our region are particularly at risk and could face insolvency when furlough ends or if they cannot open for Christmas.

We have identified interventions that could make a real difference but in order to act, we need a funding commitment from the Government. That is why we have written this letter.

Marie Summers, company and creative director, Timeless Theatre Company, Chester-le-Street

The huge issue with the entertainment industry is that it simply cannot do its job under the current rulings.

If the chancellor is really serious about saving the industry – and therefore the countless numbers of jobs currently in jeopardy – there has to be more commitment to finding ways of getting audiences back to venues.

There also has to be more made available at grass roots level and this needs to be grants and not loans – nobody needs to have the prospect of paying back money hanging around their necks.

We have spoken to many theatre managers across the country who run smaller 300-600 seater venues, and without a strong injection of cash, there’s a very real possibility the curtain will come down for the final time and most will not last more than a few months without investment.

Before Covid-19 we had a massive amount of work on to create shows for cruise ships, theatres, special events. Now show producers like us could go out of business within weeks, at worst, months.

We will lose a huge amount of creative talent and singers, dancers and actors will have to look for alternative careers because there’s simply no show producers left to employ them. That will mean that venues struggle to find entertainment to put on stages.

We have lost a whole year’s worth of income. For the entertainment industry to survive something needs to be done -and fast.

Paul Waite, director, i-Stage Group, Sunderland

i-Stage Group are an entertainment company based in Sunderland and while we offer a wide range of event, media and entertainment services, our core business is producing and developing new talent, acts, bands, touring shows and production shows, to supply a wide range of venues.

Locally you may have seen some of our acts perform at Ramside Hall Hotel near Durham and we have events planned at the Utilita Arena in Newcastle in 2021.

When the government announced lockdown many bookings were immediately cancelled and in total we have now cancelled over 750 engagements for events scheduled between March and September 2020 and we expect this number to increase.

This has had a devastating affect on the company as a whole and indeed the self-employed/freelances who rely on it which include our managed artistes, musicians, dancers, tech personnel, graphic designers, choreographers, music producers, show producers, promoters and booking agents.

Many of these self employed/freelances have fallen through the cracks and have not received any form of financial support or very little. We sincerely hope this gets rectified and soon.

Music venues, theatres and arts institutions will receive £1.5 billion support from the government however we feel the government needs to develop a similar package for the organisations, self-employed and freelances who will be crucial to the return of arts and entertainment in this country.

There is light at the end of the tunnel as many venues have started to launch socially distanced outdoor events and some are trialling indoor entertainment and require event and entertainment services once again.

We are therefore remaining positive and are focused on embracing the new normal and capitalising on new opportunities.

Jay Johal, managing director Rainton Arena, Houghton-le-Spring

The Chancellor did a great job initially with the bounce-back loans and grants. However, this has not covered everything, as these funds still are not enough to cover our bills and other outstanding costs we may have had.

We had a very good calendar for the rest of the year and, like any business, rely on this future business coming in to pay the bills.

A £50,000 loan just was not enough and takes forever to get, as banks are still not releasing funds quickly enough.

There needs to be more done. Loans are not the answer as that puts us further in debt. We need access to more grants and funding to keep us going or to free our expenses until we can reopen.

The chancellor said more funding would be available two weeks ago and we have still not heard anything. We are hitting barriers everywhere we turn.

While we are being told to put on outside events, it is proving very challenging to meet local councils’ Covid-19 requirements.

How can they just sit back and let this happen when our industry is such a major player in the UK economy?

I personally have put my all into Rainton Arena and I know many other self employed owners in the industry are feeling the strain.

If they don’t act sooner with a clear plan and grants a lot of us are going to go bust. We still get rent and mortgage bills monthly, our we have our insurance and utilities to pay but we haven’t any income.

We really just need a clear plan and help from the government to keep our industry alive.

 

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