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September 30 2021

news

Government urged to keep reduced VAT on tickets

Culture secretary

Nadine Dorries

M c A n d r e w

i s

C h r

GEORGIA SNOW

The theatre and live events industries are warning that the impending increase to VAT on tickets threatens their successful return by removing crucial support when it is needed most.

Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre chief executive Julian Bird said the sector was “not out of the woods yet” and full recovery was still a long way off, meaning producers and theatres needed the financial benefits of reduced VAT as they move into the important autumn/ winter season.

Newly appointed culture secretary Nadine Dorries confirmed last week that the lower rate of VAT on live event tickets would end on September 30. It is currently at 5%, and will increase to 12.5% before returning to the full 20% next March. A reduced rate has been in place for the leisure and hospitality sectors since July 2020. The sector secured a six-month extension earlier this year after lobbying the government against removing support before many organisations had the chance to reopen fully.

However, in response to the news that the increase will go ahead, leaders are arguing that, despite restrictions having been lifted, the recovery remains fragile.

“We are urging the government to maintain VAT at a lower rate to help boost the market – a market that is still suffering and still recovering,” Bird told The Stage. “We’re not out of the woods yet. There are huge risks for the autumn and winter. The insurance product provided by the government doesn’t actually do what the industry needs – it doesn’t provide the right coverage and it’s too expensive, so basically it doesn’t work and we’re left where we were.”

He added: “VAT has been the one thing that has been able to help people make a go of it, so along with all of hospitality and leisure, we would urge [the government] to maintain [the 5% rate].”

Bird said the autumn budget and spending review could be an opportunity for the government to redress the issue, and said SOLT would continue to lobby ministers over the coming weeks.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s 2020 report on the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors recommended that ticket-sale VAT be kept at 5% for three years to support the industry throughout its full recovery.

In response to the confirmation of next month’s increase, Greg Parmley, chief executive of umbrella organisation LIVE, said a long-term extension of the 5% rate could have far-reaching benefits for the live-performance sector.

“The live-music industry supports hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs across the UK and brings in billions of pounds for the UK economy. This policy was brought in to support the industry during its most challenging year ever, when our prolonged closure led to a 95% reduction in our income. It will take years before we can fully bounce back. We are urging the government to retain the VAT rate reduction on ticket sales for the next three years. It would be a transformational intervention for the most struggling businesses and directly support thousands of jobs and supply-chain businesses,” he said.

Arts data specialists Purple Seven has been monitoring box-office figures for theatres across the UK throughout the pandemic. Managing director David Brownlee said a longer period of the reduced VAT rate would aid the recovery of the UK’s commercial touring sector.

“As the sector has started to recover after the pandemic, it’s been clear that producing theatres across the UK have generally been able to come back faster and more fully than presenting houses relying on touring work. With so much of the touring sector commercial and not culturally exempt from VAT, an extension of the reduced 5% level could be a real catalyst to encourage producers and venues to get more shows on the road,” he said.

Barbican ‘in freefall’ ahead of racism review

Continued from Front Page

He said there was concern that Lewis Silkin’s report would be “filtered by the board themselves” and that staff would not have the opportunity to “read it directly and interpret it ourselves”.

He also claimed that workers were suffering from a “lack of psycho­logical safety”.

“People don’t feel they can speak out or feel they may say the wrong thing. It’s a very difficult situation for people to be in,” he said, describing the Barbican as a “siloed, inward-looking institution”.

He claimed that the company’s HR department had been “slow to react to the issues raised in Barbican Stories”, and that it had initially dismissed the document because grievances had not been raised directly with the department.

The Stage understands an audit of the Barbican’s HR has been undertaken and members of the Barbican Centre board are due to consider a number of recommendations designed to strengthen equality, diversity and inclusion at the organisation.

One former employee, who recently left the organisation, described a “mass exodus” and criticised a lack of communication about the independent review. They claimed there was a “complete lack of faith

in the directorate” and that staff members’ “mental and physical health had suffered greatly” in recent months.

“It’s been a place where people were impassioned to work, and when I started I never experienced people so into their work. But in the past few weeks everyone is surrounded by a cloud of gloom,” they said.

The Stage understands the Barbican offers a range of mental health support to all staff.

Another former employee, who recently left, called on the Barbican’s board to “share the review in its entirety with the staff”.

“If it doesn’t, they could come out and say ‘nothing is wrong’ – that is the kind of behaviour that has been happening over the past year and a half, which is traumatic,” they said, adding that “loads and loads” of people had left the company recently.

As reported by The Stage last week, Lewis Silkin has conducted 31 staff interviews and examined five written submissions, all of which City of London Corporation chief executive John Barradell said had “helped shape the interim summary report”.

A spokesman for the City of London Corporation told The Stage: “We are united in our commitment to equality, inclusivity and diversity, and to eradicating all forms of racism in everything we do. We have appointed Lewis Silkin LLP, a leading law

firm who are experts in diversity and equalities law, to undertake an external review into staff experiences of racism and discrimination at the Barbican Centre.”

He added: “Lewis Silkin is continuing its review and a final, confidential and anonymised report will be presented to the board for consideration shortly. We are continuing to encourage staff to come forward with any new insights or experiences, and we thank everyone who has contacted Lewis Silkin so far. We look forward to receiving a thorough and frank final report with robust recommendations that will enable tangible and meaningful change to occur.”

He said the organisation would continue to take “decisive action and be as open and transparent as possible without compromising our duty of care to staff who have come forward”.

He described the staff at the centre as “the beating heart” of the Barbican and said the organisation was “incredibly proud of the work they are doing”.

The Stage understands interim Barbican Centre directors Sandeep Dwesar and Will Gompertz are conducting a review of its culture and recruitment processes. This involves increased investment in training and development, and creating “more robust policies and practices for reporting racism”.

BECTU: Culture secretary must tackle bullying and harassment

Giverny Masso

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries has been urged to ensure tackling harassment in the creative industries and supporting touring professionals are among her top priorities, in a letter sent by entertainment union BECTU. Head of the union Philippa Childs has written to Dorries, who was appointed Oliver Dowden’s replacement as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on September 15. In the letter, Childs congratulates Dorries on her appointment, and requests support in six key areas.

These are: • Tackling bullying and harassment in

the creative industries. • Supporting workers and businesses

until the end of Covid interruptions. • Supporting the heritage sector and

protecting the UK’s museums and galleries. • Acting as a voice for freelancers and

the self-employed. • Celebrating the success of the creative

industries. • Supporting touring professionals.

In the letter, Childs outlines three steps to deal with bullying and harassment, which include a clear policy and process for complaints across the industry, safeguarding officers on all productions and the establishment of an external reporting body to look at historical complaints.

She urges Dorries to commit to continuing discussions on the topic started by former culture minister Caroline Dinenage and to support tackling the “endemic issue”.

The letter also states that the arts and entertainment industry is still living with “regular interruptions” due to Covid-19, and calls on Dorries to secure targeted support for the sector “to ensure a safe and successful recovery and avoid mass redundancies in the run up to Christmas”.

Childs also raises the impact of Brexit on the ability of live events professionals to tour, and urges the culture secretary to negotiate a free cultural EU work permit.

“The live events industry is part of a cultural ecosystem that provides billions to the UK economy and jobs across all corners of the country. As it stands, the EU trade deal will seriously damage such an important cultural sector and a key component of global Britain,” the letter adds.