Today’s announcement from the chancellor of a £1.57bn support package for the arts and heritage is extremely welcome.
Since lockdown measures have prevented venues from holding events for several months, we in the cultural sector have been asking for three things:
- An injection of cash into the industry while we are unable to operate
- An extension of the job retention scheme (JRS)
- An indicative timeframe for re-opening venues
This announcement does the first of those things, and that’s a very encouraging sign. It shows that the government is listening to the sector and understands the importance of the creative industries to the UK’s economy and cultural life, but our future remains uncertain until we find out what support the Royal Albert Hall will receive.
There is much work ahead for all of us, and we need to understand how to apply and how quickly the funds will be available. The JRS has been a lifesaver for us and we were very impressed at the simplicity and speed of this being rolled out, and we hope that this application process will continue in that spirit.
Realistically, without further detail on a number of factors, we cannot be certain on our future. We need urgent clarity on when live performance with an audience might be possible now that pubs, planes and cinemas are open again, so we are also pleased to see that government is finalising guidance for a phased return of the performing arts.
The creative industries are a vital part of the UK economy – contributing £111bn in 2018, according to government figures – and while this is a very welcome first step, much more work is going to be needed to put the cultural sector back on its feet.
Before the pandemic, the Royal Albert Hall, as a charity, regularly made surpluses of over £6m a year, all of which went into looking after our Grade I listed building and our Education & Outreach activities. We are passionate about returning to a time of independence from government funding, and being self-sustaining in our charitable purposes. We will do all we can to look after our building and the communities it supports in the meantime, but for now are grateful for today’s news as we face our toughest challenge yet.