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The shadow culture secretary has questioned whether the government’s failure to help performing arts through the coronavirus crisis is a “political decision”.
Jo Stevens said ministers may feel those working in arts and culture do not vote Tory and so are not a priority as the lockdown is lifted in England.
Stevens told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast there had been “complete silence” from the government despite severe pressure on organisations like theatres, which are beginning to make people redundant as the furlough scheme winds down.
Theatres and arts venues are being permitted to reopen as part of the lockdown easing on July 4 but they cannot either host live performances, or sell enough tickets to turn a profit, due to social distancing guidelines.
Amid reports that the government is mulling over a bailout package for theatres and arts venues, Stevens called for urgent action to stave off mass redundancies.
“Time is really running out, there are theatres all over the country closing, there are thousands of people receiving redundancy notices because we’ve got the job retention scheme about to taper off, and unless we do something very, very soon we are going to lose loads of jobs out of this,” she told Commons People.
“But more importantly it makes the recovery more difficult because once you lose the skills and the people from the sector, it’s very hard to get it back.”
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said earlier this month that the government was convening experts in a taskforce on bringing back the arts.
He said the return of Premier League and Championship football could provide a “model” for the return of performing arts.
But Stevens said the failure to come up with a plan in the “five or six weeks” since the taskforce was set up was “astonishing”.
“My sense is they don’t think it’s important,” she said.
“Maybe it’s a political decision and they don’t think people in arts and culture vote Tory, I don’t know.”
And Stevens said the failure to help was more galling when people have relied on culture to get them through the three-month lockdown.
“I think it’s really awful for many reasons but particularly because whilst we’ve all been locked down at home during this time, what have we relied on?” she said.
“We’ve relied on culture and music and arts online, that’s what’s kept us sane, it’s kept me sane, and it just feels like a really nasty payback.”