Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Updates and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Updates and guidance

Please find here the latest government advice, industry guidance and updates on the Coronavirus situation.

Please continue to email ceooffice@soltukt.co.uk with any questions, comments and/or concerns.   

SOLT & UK Theatre webinars

  • Webinar for Freelancers, Self-employed, Casting and Agents – Thursday 18 February at 4pm-5pm. To register, please click here. This webinar will be BSL interpreted and captioned.

Impact of COVID on the West End – Letter to Oliver Dowden
Following our joint letter to DCMS, spearheaded by HOLBA, the letter secured coverage in the
Financial Times and EG.

ACTION NEEDED - #KeepVATat5 campaign
We have joined forces across the live entertainment sector on the importance of Government keeping the VAT rate on tickets reduced at 5%. If it is reversed, the rate (which is due to end in March) will take millions from the live events industry when we all need it the most.

To secure this extension, we need your help.

  1. This week, write to your local MP to urge them to #KeepVATat5. Download the template letter with instructions, or personalise however you see fit.
  2. Encourage your friends, colleagues, networks, mailing lists and audiences to do the same.
  3. Post on social media (#KeepVATat5) about why this matters, and encourage your online networks to get involved. A zip file of assets (graphics for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with key messages can be downloaded here.

This information is also available on the LIVE website here and you can download our press release – which includes a quote from Julian Bird – by clicking here.

Skills Whitepaper
The Government has today published the long-awaited Skills Whitepaper.
Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth is important as it reviews and prioritises education needs in line with labour market needs. These needs should reflect the changing environment: a post-Brexit UK, more automation and advancement in technologies, alongside the need to ‘build back fairer’ in terms of diversity, equality and inclusion post COVID-19. Although it doesn’t mention the self-employed, we will raise with DCMS and the DFE that we would like to see consideration given to training routes that directly support this crucial section of our workforce.

The Paper is important for the theatre sector’s current and future workforce. It directly mentions the creative sector and technical education and highlights that Government has heard our needs in terms of closing skills gaps and helping deliver on the Industrial Strategy.

One of the most important parts of the paper is that it recognises and discusses the need for more flexibilities in apprenticeships. UK Theatre and SOLT sit on the Creative Industries Council’s FE & HE Group, as well as its Apprenticeships and T-Levels Group. Through this group we have made the theatre sector’s workforce’s needs heard. Whether this is in terms of thinking about how T Level placements could work in the industry, or the need for greater flexibilities in apprenticeships so the sector can take on more apprentices. For example, is it possible to have shorter placements to fit in line with the way the theatre sector works – enabling more theatre businesses to get involved, especially SMEs. Government has acknowledged this: ‘One of the barriers is the varied and flexible employment patterns that mean an apprentice and their employer are unable to commit to the minimum 12-month apprenticeship duration. We want to support apprentices and employers to make use of apprenticeships in sectors where short-term, project-based employment is the norm…’

Another item in their list of recommendations is to collect comprehensive workforce data collection. We would welcome this, especially if it reaches beyond school leavers, and collects more details on mid-career and also on freelancers for instance.

Chancellor extends furlough and loan schemes
It has been announced that the furlough scheme will extend until the end of April 2021. The government will continue to pay 80% of the salary of employees for hours not worked until the end of April. Employers will only be required to pay wages, National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and pensions for hours worked; and NICs and pensions for hours not worked. The latest information can be found here.

Letter to Fiona Hyslop MSP

UK Theatre is a member of Culture Counts. Culture Counts has written to Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, to ask for the announcement of a three-year culture budget in January 2021. As we know, the culture sector has experienced an awful year, with precarious-work quickly turning into no-work for many. The high levels of precarious work that exist in the sector, caused in part by uncertainty and the inability to plan ahead, have a knock-on impact on its lack of diversity. 

Advocacy documents       

Below are some of the advocacy documents we have sent out on the subject of COVID 19. 

For further guidance and advice, please visit the Government Guidance Library.


The Government has opened up two new communications channels for business: 

HMRC Business Support Helpline – 0800 024 1222
Coronavirus WhatsApp Information Service: To use this free service, simply add 07860 064422 in your phone contacts and then message the word ‘hi’ in a WhatsApp message to get started.

You can also visit the Government's COVID-19 support pages for businesses here:

England/UK wide: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support

Wales: https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice/

Northern Ireland: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-business-and-employers

Scotland: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/coronavirus-advice

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Rapid testing
Following our previous requests for information, we have been advised that the process is now even more streamlined such that if you run a business / organisation (which would include a production) that employs 50 or more people, you can
register to order tests for employees who cannot work from home. Organisations can then directly book themselves onto some ‘Intro’ webinars and sign-up to DHSC’s digital platform, Egress, for ordering and receiving tests. As a reminder, the community testing offer is still available via local authorities for organisations with less than 50 employees who have staff that are unable to work from home.

We continue to engage with government on the issue of access to rapid tests for those working with under 50 people, and will keep you updated on progress.

Performing Arts Guidance – Updates
The guidance for Performing Arts working safely during COVID-19 has now been updated following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4 January. 

From 5 January, new national restrictions have been put in place to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. During this period, performing arts venues can continue to operate under Stages 1 and 2 of the performing arts roadmap. This means that:

  • Performing arts professionals may continue to rehearse and train, and perform for broadcast or recording purposes
  • Other than for this purpose, theatres, concert halls, grassroots music venues and entertainment venues must close. Professional dancers may continue to use dance studios.
  • Non-professional activity, such as amateur choirs and orchestra, cannot take place.
  • Indoor and outdoor performances with an audience cannot take place.
  • You can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home, including but not limited to people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that require in-person attendance.

Job Support Scheme

  • replaces the Job Retention Scheme
  • rather than being made redundant, employees will work on a part time basis: employers pay for the hours worked, while the Government and employer pay a further third each of the remaining hours not worked
    • this will mean employers paying a slightly larger contribution than the hours that an employee works (HMT infographic)
  • all SMEs are eligible, however non-SMEs will be exempt unless their turnover has fallen
  • open to companies who have not previously used the Job Retention Scheme
  • employers who take up the Job Support Scheme can continue to claim the Job Retention Bonus
  • self-employed grant extended on the same conditions as Job Support Scheme - you can read the factsheet here

Pay as you Grow

  • bounce-back loans extended from 6 to 10 years, "nearly halving monthly payments"
  • payments can be suspended for up to six months and credit rating unaffected
  • Government will continue to guarantee Coronavirus interruption loans for up to ten years
  • deadline for loan applications has been extended to the end of this year
  • a successor loan programme will begin in January
  • businesses can spread their VAT bill over eleven smaller repayments with no interest

VAT

  • will remain at the reduced rate of 5% for hospitality and tourism sector until no sooner than 31 March 2021

HMT has published the Winter Economy Plan update in full and a press release on the announcement. The following factsheets can be viewed for reference:

New HMRC employment status guidance for performers, stage management and creatives

As you know, over a lengthy period we have been working with HMRC alongside Equity and media sector representatives on HMRC’s guidance for determining the employment status (for tax purposes) of performers, stage management, directors, designers and choreographers. We are pleased to say that the guidance, which has been incorporated into HMRC’s Employment Status Manual (links below), has now been finalised and published.

This is now the main sectoral guidance for these roles, and we hope that it will assist members in determining employment status for these roles. A key point is that HMRC has confirmed the long-established position that most performers will be self-employed for tax purposes.

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact the Legal Team.

Actors and other performers:

Stage management:

Designers, directors and choreographers:

Arts Map launched - Add / claim your listing

The Public Campaign for the Arts has launched the Arts Map, a new online platform to grow and express support for arts organisations in local communities across the UK. 

The Arts Map enables anyone to type in their postcode, check the status of arts organisations nearby, and show support for them with messages and donations. You can receive all messages for use in your fundraising and advocacy.

To find out more and to register, visit https://www.campaignforthearts.org/map/

Guidance on potential alternatives to making employees redundant

SOLT and UK Theatre have produced guidance on some potential alternatives to making redundancies in response to the current Coronavirus situation.

SOLT and UK Theatre have advised BECTU that SOLT and UK Theatre members are considering retainer arrangements as alternatives to redundancy for some staff. BECTU are supportive in principle but they stress that such arrangements must be subject to individual agreement with the employees concerned and, in the absence of a significant element of contractual pay continuing to be paid, the employee would still be entitled to claim that they are redundant and receive all contractual and statutory payments due.

Trade Credit Insurance guarantee launched

Theatre businesses with supply chains which rely on Trade Credit Insurance and who are experiencing difficulties maintaining cover due to Coronavirus should have a look at this latest support scheme from government. 

Purple Seven & TRG Arts provide venue dashboards to assist with recovery planning 

Purple Seven and TRG Arts are providing all interested venues access to their own online dashboard of key metrics demonstrating the impact COVID-19 is having on their organisation. This dashboard will enable organisations to benchmark your dataset against your peers, and provides a range of key metrics, to assist you in short and long-term recovery planning.  The data given is provided in almost real-time, making it extremely accurate and useful for business planning. 

As part of this arrangement, SOLT & UK Theatre will also have access to country-wide data, to enable us to compile information which we can use to lobby government. There is no charge for signing up to and accessing your dashboard, and organisations should be able to sign up within a matter of days. The online sign-up process is quick and easy, via this link

Managing Financial Difficulties: guidance and a toolkit for arts and cultural organisations 

Created in partnership with Arts Council England this new guidance and toolkit has been developed with the aim of offering practical, realistic and holistic support to organisations as they come to terms with and respond to financial crises.  It draws on Dawn and Susan’s extensive experience of working with organisations in financial difficulty, including Susan’s work as an insolvency practitioner and Dawn’s role as Director, Organisational Development at the Arts Council.

The materials were created before the current crisis hit but the advice, tools and templates could scarcely be more relevant.


SEISS extended

The Self Employed Scheme (SEISS) has also had a small uplift with 80% of average trading profits being paid in November, and then reverting to the previously announced 40% for December and January – this increases the overall total level for this upcoming grant to 55% of trading profits. Those eligible will now be able to claim from the end of November. Note there has been no movement on those who have previously been ineligible for a SEISS grant. Details as announced are here.

Self-employment Income Support Scheme
The second stage of Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) opens for applications on Monday 17 August. Those eligible will receive a government grant worth up to £6,570.

Graeae's BEYOND programme
Graeae have just launched new programme BEYOND, to help transform the careers of Deaf and disabled artists (at all stages of their practice), by offering space, advice, mentoring and support. The programme is being run in partnership with 8 theatres across the North East, North West, and East Midlands: Cast Doncaster, Curve Leicester, Hull Truck Theatre, Live Theatre Newcastle, Northern Stage, Nottingham Playhouse, Octagon Bolton and Shakespeare North Playhouse. 

Applications from Deaf and disabled artists are now open (no deadline, rolling application process) and we’d be really grateful if you can help to spread the word through your social media accounts and to any relevant databases - especially if you’re NE, NW or Midlands based.

The web page with full info can be found here, and a tweet that can be shared can be found here. For any further information on the programme, please email laura@graeae.org

SEISS

  • The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will be extended - with those eligible able to claim a second and final grant capped at £6,570.   
  • Applications for the second grant will open in August. Individuals will be able to claim a second taxable grant worth 70% of their average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single installment covering three months’ worth of profits.    

Freelancers Make Theatre Work
A community set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic by an independent voluntary group of freelance theatre makers, advocating for all UK theatre freelancers and the industry as a whole.
 
As a collective voice, they hope to reinforce the important work that some of you are already doing, ask that you share these details with any freelancers in your community. They welcome any suggestions you may have both now and in the future, about how to support each other through this unprecedented crisis.

www.FreelancersMakeTheatreWork.com is an environment where organisations and individuals can share conversations in order to maintain a cohesive voice for the theatre industry.

See this e-flyer for a summary of initial intentions and ambitions.

It is important that we reach as many freelance artists as we can at this time, and anything you can do to spread the word would be greatly appreciated.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation COVID-19 funds  

The PHF has set up a number of funds for artists, writers, composers etc.

Theatrical Charities  

Please visit the newly launched website. Please do share and retweet our social posts about this initiative. 

Press Update
Dominic Cavendish conducted a piece in Thursday 11 February’s Daily Telegraph with Julian – please
find the article here.

Please find our latest media briefing notes here and share these within your organisation to help with any press interviews. We are continuing with our PR plans for 16th March with the #FirstInLastOut campaign and will share more information with you on Monday as we're keen for the entire theatre community to be involved.

Industry press moment - 16 March
16 March, the anniversary of UK theatres closing, will be a moment where the press spotlight is on the theatre industry. This presents an opportunity to own that moment, highlight where we were then and now as a sector, and what we need in order to be able to reopen. We are working on a joined-up industry approach to mark the anniversary.

A key focus will be on the Theatre Artists Fund, as while theatres remain closed we need to continue to highlight the plight of theatre and live arts workers who have fallen through the cracks of support schemes. We will be using the hashtag #FirstInLastOut and pushing a call to action to support the Theatre Artists Fund. We have a number of big names involved in this social campaign, including Eddie Redmayne and Maxine Peake. We will soon be sharing a simple toolkit with everyone, with details of how you can get involved in the different aspects of the campaign around 16 March.

Ticketing Principles
We know how important it is to build back audience confidence and to encourage advance sales, and so we'd like to refresh you with the Ticketing Principles that we introduced last year following consultation with the membership. We are asking as many venues across the country to follow these principles, and specifically we have asked venues that sign up to the See it Safely scheme to follow them. If you have any queries please do email
Kayley@soltukt.co.uk.

The principles are outlined below and you can download the full document here.

  1. For maximized flexibility customers can exchange their ticket up to at least 24 hours prior to the event
  2. Every ticket can be purchased as an e-ticket / mobile / Print At Home, so customers will have the easiest, quickest and safest way to enter the venue
  3. Queueing and bottlenecks will be reduced at venue by not having collect at box office as an option for advance bookings, saving time and creating a better experience for visitors

#BackOnStage
Please use the #BackOnStage hashtag across any promotional and organic online content you are putting out, and encourage cast, creatives and ticketholders to do the same - this will help send a unified cross-industry message that theatres are opening for business again, and that audiences are being welcomed back safely. We want everyone to get involved with our #BackOnStage social campaign - from cast, to front and back of house, to audiences. Below are some suggestions:

  1. In the run up to reopening, share videos of the cast, backstage team or venue employees talking about how excited they are to be back and reminding ticket holders to use the hashtag #BackOnStage when posting about their experience of the show.
  2. After the bows, have a cast member do a shoutout to ask audiences to share their experience of being back at the theatre using the hashtag and tagging the show.
  3. Take a picture or video the curtain call and post with the hashtag.
  4. Get in touch with us to organise a #BackOnStage-themed Instagram takeover or Vlog early in the run (please email jess@soltukt.co.uk and frankie@soltukt.co.uk)
  5. Include #BackOnStage in any promotional and organic online content. Include it in your social copy to spread awareness to those across all platforms. 

See it Safely

Over 250 venues across the country have signed up to our See it Safely scheme so far. In order for the scheme to have weight and to instill audience confidence, we need your help in supporting and promoting it. Here's how you can help.

What we need from you if your venue has been approved:

  • Add the mark to your show and venue websites - we'd recommend adding it to your homepage, on your FAQs / Covid-info pages, or as a tab next to HOME and BOOK TICKETS on your website, linking through to your safety info. 
    • Recently, Google and Facebook have been cautious of new websites listing safety information, so if you have a new website for a show, it is advisable to have your safety info hosted externally on a long-standing site (like your venue website or you can link through to OLT: https://officiallondontheatre.com/see-it-safely/)
  • Add the mark to show artwork and use this version in print and online 
  • If you're sending any e-shots, include the mark in this 
  • Print the signage, logo and certificate to display at your venue 
  • Include messaging in press releases - suggested wording is included in the toolkit 
  • Mention that your venue has been approved on your social channels, and use #BackOnStage

If your venue would like to sign up to the scheme, please complete this application form. We have now created a version of the See it Safely form for touring companies and producers to sign up to the scheme - please find this here.

If you have any questions, please email SeeItSafely@soltukt.co.uk.

Get in touch with your press releases and show openings

If you have any press releases to share for a new show or a show reopening, please get in touch on news@soltukt.co.uk so we can cover any stories on Official London Theatre and in our media briefings.

Audience/consumer research: insight highlights 

The SOLT / UK Theatre Research Group has gathered evidence of consumer sentiment and behaviour from over 25 authoritative research sources in order to inform the sector’s efforts to successfully reopen Theatre in a way which offers audiences confidence to return and incentives to do so.  

This first document offers a summary of findings and an interpretation of what this means for the theatre sector. It is a snapshot of current attitudes - we continue to monitor and update the available data on an ongoing basis.

SOLT and UK Theatre would like to give huge thanks to Richard Huntrods for all his work on this project. We would also like to thank the whole Audience Research Group for their continuing support, and thank you to those who have contributed valuable research to this document.

We are aiming to update this document every month or so, or whenever significant political announcements or social shifts require us to review the available data.  

Content on Official London Theatre & Theatre Tokens    

  • Official London Theatre's YouTube channel now has 150k subscribers and continues to grow on a daily basis. Please get in touch with aemilia@soltukt.co.uk.
  • Please continue to send your content and news if you have a London venue so we can promote it on Official London Theatre's Theatre Fix page to news@soltukt.co.uk.
  • Please also continue to send your content for Theatre Tokens' Theatre Fix page to jamie@theatretokens.com.
  • When sending us any content to promote, please let us know what accessible options are available so we can flag captions, BSL or AD. Please find a basic guide to adding subtitles to your videos on YouTube here and a list of Audio Describers that you can approach to work with here.
  • For participating Theatre Tokens venues we're offering geo-targeted emails to promote donation initiatives and digital production offerings. Please send relevant information to jamie@theatretokens.com.    

Public Health England Action Cards
The cards provide instructions to anyone responsible for a business or venue on what to do in the event of confirmed cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in your organisation. The quick-reference guides provide key steps to help you quickly identify, report and respond to outbreaks. You can download the cards here.

Security
Counter Terrorism Policing have created
a new toolkit containing advice on security minded comms, with internal and external assets to help you communicate effectively about countering terrorism with your staff and customers. 

Season for Change 

Season for Change is a nationwide programme of artistic and cultural events that celebrate the environment and inspire urgent climate action. The Season for Change Toolkit is an open-source, online collection of resources to help you to embed environmentalism into your practice.

Guidance for businesses returning to work after the lockdown

The London Fire Brigade have prepared guidance for businesses regarding fire safety matters they you may wish to consider when returning to your premises and here you can download a Returning to the workplace after the COVID-19 lockdown toolkit.

Protecting pedestrian queues from Vehicle As a Weapon (VAW) Attack

CPNI and NaCTSO have issued further guidance on the risk to pedestrians from Vehicle As a Weapon (VAW) attacks. Social distancing measures will require businesses to manage customers flows and numbers going into premises. In order to minimise the risk to queues of people, organisations can take practical and achievable steps to either deter or disrupt a Vehicle As a Weapon Attack.

Top 5 priorities for temporarily closed properties

Many organisations in the UK have had to temporarily shut down their venues for a period of time and any building that is temporarily closed or permanently unoccupied can be at greater risk form arson, antisocial behaviour such as vandalism or squatters, theft, and escape of water.

This link provides guidance from our insurance partners Tysers Insurance Brokers & Ecclesiastical Insurance Company in respect of managing temporarily closed or permanently unoccupied properties during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

RIDDOR – reporting Coronavirus (COVID-19)

HSE has issued details of when and how you should report Coronavirus incidents under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013). You must only make a report under RIDDOR, relating to Coronavirus, when:

  • an unintended incident at work has led to someone's possible or actual exposure to Coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
  • a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to Coronavirus.

Cyber Risk

Sadly a number of people are being exploited by cyber criminals. This is a joint advisory document from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cyber-security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The document features detection and mitigation techniques.

COVID Information website

The Cross-Sector Safety & Security Communications (CSSC) has entered into a partnership with a very useful website titled 'The Covid Telegraph'. This new site has accumulated facts, articles and advice in relation to the Covid-19 virus, all from trusted sources and verified by leading experts. The link to the Telegraph is here.

Venue Operations
We face new challenges and hazards in regard to partly occupied or empty buildings. Assurity Consulting have created a series of advice papers on what you should be carrying out to ensure compliance and safety control measures at this time:

Downloadable resources

New survey on mental health for creative freelancers & entrepreneurs

the hub are asking creative freelancers and entrepreneurs to take part in a new survey they’ve launched during Mental Health Awareness Week, that explores the impact Covid 19 has had so far and the kinds of support they’d find most useful over the coming months. Survey findings will be shared with government and funders to inform their sector support, and also help the hub shape its new BALANCE programme, designed to help freelancers and independents balance their minds as well as their books.

Please add your voice to the mix, and take part in the survey, which you’ll find here. And please share it if you can, too. Thanks!

Wellbeing and COVID-19 

We know that our members are concerned with how the current crisis is impacting people’s wellbeing and mental health. We understand that you are trying to support your employees and colleagues however possible to navigate this difficult time. On Tuesday, we held a meeting with our Wellbeing committee which was created earlier this year as part of our ongoing work around promoting safer and more supportive working practices. We discussed some practical ways in which we can support you and your organisations and have created a page dedicated to wellbeing for the sector. We also need your help – please could you send us information to ceooffice@soltukt.co.uk about how you are supporting staff (either who are furloughed or still working), and we will collate them and share to encourage best practice.

Health benefits of creativity during COVID

The Welsh NHS Confederation and the Arts Council of Wales are highlighting the health benefits creativity can have on the wellbeing of the population during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Home working ergonomics & Wellbeing

With the extended lockdown, promoting the health & safety of your workers is vital. IOSH have created guidance to explain how we can help develop a positive mindset when working remotely.  

We also have a duty of care to ensure risks to workers are properly managed. IOSH have further advice and guidance for the ergonomics of working from home. 

Get in touch

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Society of London Theatre is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales, whose registered office is at 32 Rose Street, London, WC2E 9ET, Company No 527227.