Over the last week we have seen businesses in the hospitality sector re-open their doors, albeit within social distancing guidelines. It's really important that people respect these rules, in order that the coronavirus infection rate doesn’t start to rise again, as it's doing in some parts of the United States of America. This would make a further lockdown necessary, as we have seen here in a localised form in Leicester. However, there are still many venues that are shut, and this is particularly hard for those businesses and organisations that rely on larger audiences of paying visitors. At the moment the guidance is that theatres and music venues must remain closed to live audiences. Even if they were allowed to re-open with social distancing measures in place, with perhaps one third of the normal capacity audience allowed, it would remain non-viable for them to do so. The costs involved in sustaining the production of a play or concert require a much higher proportion of the tickets to be sold to each performance.
We have already seen some theatres serving bigger populations than we have in Folkestone and Hythe, close their doors forever. With no imminent prospect of audiences returning more would undoubtedly have followed, were it not for the announcement of a major new fund to sustain culture and the arts through the coronavirus. On Monday this week the Prime Minister announced that the future of Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues will be protected with emergency grants and loans. Funding will also be provided to restart construction work at cultural and heritage sites paused as a result of the pandemic. To achieve this the Government will make available £1.57 billion in funding. Over the next few weeks details will be set out as to how cultural organisations from right across the country will be able to apply for this support.
On Tuesday, I raised with the Digital and Culture Minister, Caroline Dinenage, in the House of Commons that we need to make sure that this investment is not just directed to venues, important though that is, but it must also support the productions that are put on within them. Many of these are created by independent companies that raise the money and take on the risk of putting on a show. The film and theatre director Sam Mendes has suggested that the Government could offer to take stakes in new productions as a means of supporting the creative sector, and then recover that money if and when the shows make a profit. I hope that the government considers this kind of support for the arts as well.
This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer will set out further measures he intends to take to support the economy as it recovers from the coronavirus lockdown. At Treasury questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, I also asked the Government, as part of this, to consider cutting VAT for tourism and hospitality businesses to 5% to aid their recovery.