Theatres need government lifeline – and we can learn from other countries, MP Brabin tells Bectu webinar

3 June 2020
Shadow culture industries minister Tracy Brabin

Shadow culture industries minister Tracy Brabin

The theatre industry is “drowning” and the UK must look at international examples of support to save it, Tracy Brabin told theatre employers during a Bectu webinar on 1 June.

Employers were invited to discuss the future of the theatre industry with shadow cultural industries minister Tracy Brabin, alongside head of Bectu Philippa Childs and assistant national secretary Helen Ryan.

During the session, attended by theatre representatives from across the UK, Brabin talked about her concerns for the future of the industry.

“We have to absolutely understand the complexity of our landscape and how to protect us going forward,” she said, talking about how the industry can start up again.

Look at overseas approaches

She described her vision for recovery as operating in three phases – stop drowning; pause to look around and see what’s still standing; and have an ambition for the future and how to support individuals and creators.

Brabin suggested that the UK should look to France, Italy and New Zealand, countries whose governments have understood that theatres have closed down as a result of COVID-19.

While welcoming the creation of the DCMS creative taskforce, Brabin also criticised its make-up.

“The response from DCMS has been to set up a taskforce, which is good news, to listen to the sector to see how we can get out of this.

“But, I am pretty disappointed with the roll call of people on the taskforce.

“There are obviously some good people, but being an MP for the regions in Yorkshire, I absolutely know we need councils and trade unions round the table and I am very disappointed in the lack of diversity.”

The Batley and Spen MP also warned against relying on charity and altruism to get through the crisis. “Of course there are big campaigns for the Southbank Centre, for the Globe and for these iconic places, but philanthropy is not necessarily potentially as lucrative as it was.”

Uniform theatre guidance needed

Several polls were carried out during the course of the session.

The first poll asked employers: Will changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, ultimately, result in you having to make furloughed staff redundant? Of those on the call, 74% said yes.

The second poll asked: Would you support a joint employer and unions co-ordinated industry-wide call for government funding as the industry continues to understand how it will operate? 88% said yes.

The final poll asked: Would you support industry-wide guidelines on returning to work? 96% of the group said yes.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “These polls and the turn out to the webinar demonstrate the industry is united in its calls to the government.

“Theatre workers need additional financial support through this crisis, as do the theatres. Uniform guidance for the entire sector on how it will get back to work is a crucial part of the plan.”