West End arts jobs could plunge by 95 per cent under long term virus restrictions, warns Tory MP

More than nine in 10 arts and culture jobs in the West End could be lost if London is subjected to repeated lockdowns and social distancing measures, it is claimed.

Nickie Aiken, Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, outlined a number of grim scenarios facing the capital’s cultural heart during a debate on Tuesday.

She cited an unreleased report by the Heart of London Business Alliance — the body representing firms trading in the West End — which has modelled the possible long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

It warns that the area’s world-renowned arts and culture sector, including theatres and live music venues, would be devastated by further lockdowns and long-term rules on social distancing.

In the worst case scenario, employment would plunge by as much as 95 per cent by 2024.

Opening the Westminster Hall debate, Ms Aiken said: “They have modelled four scenarios and the predicted impact on the economy output for the arts and culture in the West End.

“Scenario one is repeated lockdowns, scenario two is strict rules and social distancing in place, scenario three is seasonal covid with occasional softer social distancing remaining and finally scenario four is a return to normality which I think we all wish for.

“For the arts and cultural sector, scenarios one and two is modelled to have very similar outcomes. Employment in the sector in the West End would fall by 95 per cent by 2024.

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British theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh (Getty Images/Johan Persson/Matthew Murphy/Manuel Harlan)

“Even in the best circumstances of a return to normality the arts and cultural sector is projected to produce only ten per cent less in ’24 than in 2019. These models do make for challenging reading.”

Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh has already said that Hamilton, Les Miserables, Mary Poppins and The Phantom Of The Opera will not return to the West End until 2021.

Ms Aiken said theatres, live music and cultural venues need “clear signposting” as to when they will be able to reopen.

The MP praised businesses including the Barbican Centre for managing to operate under current restrictions, and praised Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber for “heroic” action in the battle to reopen theatres.

After thanking ministers for their support of the arts during the pandemic, Ms Aiken urged them to provide more relief to the sector.

She said: “I would encourage the Government to continue funding jobs in sectors which remain unable to recover because of the restrictions in place.

“As these businesses have remained closed – due to no fault of their own – they will likely lose all access to current support measures when the furlough scheme ends.

“The sector has been hugely grateful for the support so far but it does need to continue. I would ask that the minister persuade the Treasury once again to reassess the support it offers the self-employed as many in the sector are freelance and work in a mixture of self-employed and employed roles depending on their contract and the employer.

“Too many have gone without any support at all, current government support has been more focused on salaried staff and there is a worry that freelancers will drop out of their profession and that will lead to a shortage of expertise when we are back up and running.”

She also called on the Government to extend the VAT reduction of five per cent for at least three years, and for the introduction of a Government backed insurance scheme for live music theatre and performance.

Ministers have already pledged a £1.57 billion rescue package to help Britain’s cultural, arts and heritage institutions weather the impact of coronavirus.



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