The Prime Minister has said that he will be going for a pint himself, ordinary man of the people that he is.
The excitement and discussion around this imminent ‘back to business’ moment, has brought back all the perplexity, not to say annoyance, I felt when the Government’s ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ was first announced back in February.
Could someone please explain to me why it is deemed safe to go into a small, crowded shop or a cramped, sweaty gym but not safe to visit an airy and spacious art gallery?
Or to go to a theatre or cinema with temperature checks and carefully spaced, distanced seating in place? We are all going to have to wait until at least May 17 to enjoy looking at art or watching a film or play.
Surely, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense? Ah well, it is just one of the many unsolved mysteries pertaining to the Government’s handling of the events of the past year, and in particular its attitude towards the arts and culture sector. A sector that, let’s not forget, contributes a huge amount to the UK economy – an estimated £10.8bn in 2019.
While the additional £300m for the culture recovery fund announced in the budget is of course welcome, further support is needed. For an average UK theatre production around 80 per cent of the people involved on stage and back stage are freelance.
The fact that many of those workers fell through the gaps and were not eligible for the self-employment income support scheme means that an awful lot of directors, actors, designers, stage managers, lighting technicians and others are going to be lost to the industry as a result.
This issue will no doubt be one of those coming under the scrutiny of the Northern Culture All Party Parliamentary Group, supported by Northumbria University, which was launched last month.
If there are positives to come out of the pandemic – and there have been a few – one is that it has become clear that in the arts and culture sector, as in many other spheres of human activity, there needs to be a major rethink.
In terms of funding, definitely, but also other areas. The Group’s six-month enquiry aims to shine a light on the impact of Covid-19 on culture across the North, hearing from those in the sector on how to increase diversity, sustainability, accessibility and resilience.
Let’s hope the Government will take note of the resulting report and its recommendations.