In Brief

UK government pledges £1.5bn to arts sector

London

6 July 2020

The UK government has pledged £1.5bn to Britain's ailing arts sector as part of a rescue package to avert a Covid-19 unemployment crisis.

Following weeks of warnings that the UK's cultural life faced irreversible catastrophe without targeted support, the government has announced the package which is intended to protect the future of museums, galleries, theatres and venues.

The settlement includes £880m of grants for the financial year to April 2021, as well as £270m of repayable loans.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, is also to announced £100m of targeted support for national cultural institutions in England and £120m to restart construction work at cultural sites. Scotland (£97m), Wales (£59m) and Northern Ireland (£33m) will also receive funding under the programme.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said: “I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”

Arts venues are still unable to open and had been facing the withdrawal of government support over the coming months, suggesting a bleak outlook for the sector. Last week the National Theatre confirmed that it had made all 250 of its casual front-of-house staff redundant, while Nuffield Southampton Theatres had already fallen into administration. 

While museums and galleries will be able to open from 4 July, restrictions on visitor numbers mean that reopening is costly.

The announcement has been met with relief by many in the sector, with the directors of the Science, Natural History, British and V&A museums, as well as the National and Tate galleries, releasing a joint statement.

They said: “We welcome the chancellor of the exchequer’s declaration of support for the UK cultural sector and announcement of funding for museums and galleries. HM Government has recognised its duty of care for the national collections[...]  The economic impact of Covid-19 has proved particularly damaging to our finances. Emergency assistance this year will enable us both to care for the collections and secure safe, free access to our galleries. We now look forward to engaging with the comprehensive spending review to secure a longer-term financial settlement.”

In spite of this, concerns remain over whether the funding will arrive quickly enough to stave off redundancies. Jo Stevens, the shadow culture secretary, said that while the package was “a much needed injection of cash”, it was “too little too late” for many.

“It needs to reach theatres teetering on the brink fast – especially those across the towns and small cities where venues and arts orgs are so vital to local economies providing many interdependent jobs,” she said on Twitter.