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Sonia Friedman comments on the Chancellor's announcement on Thursday 24th September 2020

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Theatre has been viable for thousands of years. Yesterday’s announcement from the Chancellor that our industry is not viable (whatever that means) represents an almighty blow and is, frankly, a huge insult to the theatre industry, one of this country’s most financially successful and emotionally essential sectors of the economy.

If the Government feels confident it can discard theatre and the entire freelance workforce from its immediate, urgent concerns, then it has quite brazenly announced its willingness to discard the mental health of our nation. Our creatives, actors, musicians and technical teams were ready and willing to work under challenging and changing circumstances.

Why does this Government refuse to see what we are worth and what we offer the country? Less than three weeks ago, theatres were encouraged to back to business as usual as part of Operation Sleeping Beauty. Now they have left the entire industry high and dry, without the means to retain a workforce that can’t return en masse until theatres reopen in full - to say nothing of the tens of thousands of freelance artists ineligible for any income support whatsoever.

With mass ‘Moonshot’ testing miles away, new restrictions in place for six months, and still no insurance scheme to safeguard socially distanced performances, fully re-opening remains some way off – but the chancellor’s implication that our businesses are unviable is outrageous. In reality, the Government is relying on our viability to drive its economic recovery by drawing people back into towns and city centres throughout the UK.

As an example of our "viability", in tourism surveys, ‘Theatre’ is ranked second only to ‘Heritage’ as the reason quoted for international tourists choosing to visit the UK. Theatre drives inward investment, generates intellectual property that is licensed all over the world, and, as noted by the Chancellor, plays a major role Britain’s soft power.

Theatre has proved itself a British success story domestically and internationally, generating £6 for every £1 of funding. The West End as an ecosystem brings £5 billion to London's economy alone. We’re not just viable, we’re one of the most valuable, innovative and essential industries on the planet, but without sector specific support to cover our temporary crisis, we are being abandoned by a government content to throw in the towel.

It’s entirely illogical: its own £1.57 billion package will end up paying for the very redundancies it is seeking to avoid and, as far as I’m aware, won't touch the sides in terms of helping industry freelancers. At the very least, the government needs to provide proper support to our workforce now, publish clear guidance on the public health conditions and safety measures required for us to resume performances, and underwrite the cost of insurance.

In return, they can ensure the return of our sector - worth £7 billion to the UK economy - is at the heart of the nation’s recovery from this crisis.

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