This week’s long-awaited announcement of a £1.57 billion Covid-19 support package for the UK’s cultural and creative industries is the latest of many worldwide. Governments at national, regional and city level have responded to the pandemic with unprecedented levels of support for businesses and civil society. They hope both to cushion the impact of lockdown and launch the recovery as their countries begin to reopen. The badly hit cultural and creative industries merit special attention not just because of their economic importance but because of their role in maintaining citizens’ morale and well-being. We need the return of cultural life if we are to feel the crisis is passing and life is returning to ‘normal’.
Time will be the judge of which interventions work best, but successful packages are likely to possess three main features:
- Responsive. The world moved beneath the feet of cultural organisations and artists more quickly than they would have thought possible. Government responses need to be equally timely and be straightforward for small businesses to deal with.
- Relevant. Our recent blog described how cultural organisations have been hard hit by restrictions in mobility; their supply chain of small businesses and individuals; and by swings in public sentiment. Interventions need to help with specific problems cultural and creative businesses are facing: both in the lockdown and as the recovery picks up.
- Transformational. The pandemic is painful for all, but is also presents an unprecedented opportunity for change. For example, many cultural leaders have called for a greener cultural sector to emerge. Others look for a step change in social justice and equity. Interventions should help a more open, accessible cultural sector to emerge.
We will discuss the UK package in more detail when details are clearer. In the meantime, the UK can learn lessons three other countries who were quick to put packages in place:
- Germany’s approach impresses for three reasons: timeliness; sheer size; and focus on the cultural eco-system. A €50 billion fund aimed primarily at freelancers and small businesses including, but not limited to, those in cultural and creative industries was launched on 25 March – just days into the crisis - by Angel Merkel and Culture Minister Monika Grütters. It provides grants, loans and social security payments (but has been criticised for being bureaucratic).
- New Zealand’s package is much smaller at NZ$175 million, but impressively tightly focussed on a set of priorities, with separate pots of funding going to: immediate needs from the fallout of lockdown; getting people into cultural jobs; commissioning new cultural projects; a contestable Cultural Innovation Fund; and contemporary popular music.
- China has taken a three-pronged approach: tax reliefs have eased the initial impact on cultural and creative organisations by RMB750 billion; to help recovery, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has teamed up with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to provide RMB100 billion of new loans; and a fund aimed at R&D into IT applications for culture and tourism looks to the future development of the sector.