Unusual Rigging welcomes Chancellor’s Budget amid fears of future skills shortage
3rd March 2021Unusual Rigging welcomes the outcome of the March 2021 Budget and what it means for theatres and other art venues. The Chancellor’s pledge to give an extra £410 million to the arts is intended to help the sector recover as lockdown eases. The funds are earmarked for theatres, museums, galleries and live music venues. But, says Tom Harper, managing director at Unusual, for the funds to be used most effectively, the industry should be regarded as an ecosystem, echoing the National Theatre’s Rufus Norris’ idea that the funds should be pumped into productions and NOT venues.
“The Chancellor has acknowledged that the culture sector will be a ‘significant driver’ in the UK’s pandemic recovery. While theatres are aiming to open from May 17 with social distancing in place, and with full capacity performances to be allowed from June 21, there are still months ahead as we prepare for this big relaunch. Unlike other sectors theatre cannot simply fling wide its doors and resume trading at a sustainable level in the same way as other businesses might be able to. Ringfencing the money for productions will go further in supporting the entire supply chain, especially freelancers, an alarming number of whom have not been eligible for any financial support.
Tom continued: “We cannot just support the cultural infrastructure and ignore the individual and teams who make the venues come to life. The artists, entertainers and all those working behind the scenes are really what makes the industry tick. If used wisely, these funds could go a long way to giving confidence to producers and venues to get productions back up and running. In turn, the support filters all the way through to the thousands of people who make up the theatre's freelance community; people who have had zero support throughout the entire pandemic. There is a very real risk that if the Culture Recovery Fund doesn’t reach them, we will lose a whole generation of talent. We will undoubtedly see people with a unique skillset leave the industry; no-one can afford to wait around indefinitely waiting for their sector to restart. I am under no illusion that when normality does return to theatre and live events, we will experience a real skills shortage that cannot be immediately filled. In rigging especially, the people we work with have huge quantities of experience under their belts. All the courses in the world will not equate to the knowledge and know how gained over the course of a career. We will be starting from scratch in many ways. It’s an industry whereby the younger ones at the start of their careers learn invaluable skills from the veterans. To lose a generation would have repercussions for years to come - not just in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.”
Today’s Budget follows a relentless period of lobbying from the theatre sector. The #wemakeevents campaign has petitioned hard for the government to implement several support measures to ensure it is protected as lockdown is lifted. Tom added: “It is encouraging to see that the chancellor intends to extend the furlough and self-employed income support scheme, and this will go a long way to prevent a repeat of the redundancies that we witnessed last year. We are hopeful that many of those previously excluded from the SEISS scheme will now be eligible to claim support until such time that the route out of lockdown and a return to full capacity performance can proceed.”