Emergency Response Packages for Culture: what we know so far

10 July 2020

On Sunday 5 July an emergency financial package for the arts and culture of £1.57 billion was announced by the Treasury. Government announced that this was the single largest, one-off investment that has ever been made into culture in the UK.

What has been announced?

The funding breaks down as follows:

  • £1.15 billion support pot for cultural organisations in England delivered through a mix of grants and loans. This will be made up of £270 million of repayable finance and £880 million grants.
  • £100 million of targeted support for the national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust.
  • £120 million capital investment to restart construction on cultural infrastructure and for heritage construction projects in England which was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The new funding will also mean an extra £188 million for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33 million), Scotland (£97 million) and Wales (£59 million).

The press release confirms that ‘Thousands of organisations across a range of sectors, including the performing arts and theatres, heritage, historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema, will be able to access emergency grants and loans.’

How will it be distributed and what is the timeline?

The details for the distribution and criteria for these funds are still under negotiation and no timelines or mechanisms have been officially set. No organisations have yet been given funding or confirmation. We expect the information on how to apply to be out by mid-July.

Representatives from the government have been briefing in the media, in meetings and the House of Commons, and early proposed details on what the fund will cover are starting to emerge. However, it is important to note that these are currently just proposals and have not necessarily yet been agreed.

The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture and Sport appeared on the BBC’s Today Programme to talk about the scheme and said:

‘We'll need to protect the crown jewels – those institutions of national and international significance – but we've also been very clear that we want to ensure that this goes out across the whole county. Particularly in areas where there's very little cultural infrastructure – maybe only one theatre or one gallery – it's even more important to preserve those so you don't have a loss of that for the local community.’

‘We will listen to the applications that we receive about how those institutions can be most cost-effectively preserved. But at the heart of this, this world-beating £1.57 billion pound package, is about ensuring we protect those institutions for future generations.’

You can read the full transcript here on London Theatre Direct.

Neil Mendoza, the government-appointed Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal spoke on BBC’s Front Row on Tuesday evening about the scheme. He spoke several times about the arms-length principle, and reiterated that bodies such as Arts Council England, Historic England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the British Film Institute will be making the decisions on the allocation of the grant funding (£880 million).

In the government press-release there is a line that mentions that decisions on funding will be made by the Arms-Length Bodies, in partnership with independent experts.

It is important to note that this is one-off Treasury/DCMS funding that is being distributed through these organisations – it is different from Arts Council England’s (and others’) usual Grant in Aid allocation, and completely separate from ACE’s three recent rounds of emergency funding.

This means that there will be criteria for the funding that will be directly set by the government, which the Arts Council and others will need to apply to their distribution processes. It may be that the criteria is set or monitored by a panel of independent experts. This governance mechanism is yet to be confirmed.

  • Mendoza mentioned that larger organisations would be expected to apply for loans, and that these would not be interest free, but would be re-payable over a long period of time.
  • He said that it was important to remember, that even with this unprecedented investment, the package would not reach or help all of the tens of thousands of organisations who will need it.
  • This is a fund that is targeted at organisations (he also described them as institutions). He stressed that this did not just mean ‘buildings’, but made it clear that there are no current plans for these funds to be made available to individuals or freelancers. When asked about this, Mendoza made it clear the he expected the organisations to use the investment to hire and commission freelance artists, and to ensure that this funding benefits the whole ecology of the arts and culture.

Further briefings

In the House of Commons on Tuesday there was a debate about the Arts, Culture and Heritage Support Package, where Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, took questions from a range of MPs including Jo Stevens MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture.

A briefing on the support package was given by DCMS officials to the Events and Entertainment subgroup of the Cultural Renewal Taskforce this week. During this briefing, colleagues made it clear that this funding is intended for arts and cultural organisations who are imminently at risk of critical collapse in this financial year. It was also made clear that ‘crown jewels’ would be defined as an organisation which could demonstrate local, national or international significance.

What should we note about this?

Thanking those that worked on the deal

This funding is the result of an extraordinary amount of effort and lobbying from colleagues across the sector, particularly from the civil service, Arts Council England and other arms-length bodies. We believe it is important to recognise and celebrate this work and achievement – and to give deserved credit where it is due. It has also been great to hear our DCMS Ministerial team using clear language in support of the sector which recognises how central the arts and cultural are to society and the economy.


Colleagues have been clear that these funds are not focussed on freelancers.

As we reported in March, the majority of freelancers in the arts education sector, and in the wider cultural workforce have lost the majority of their work, and those who initially ‘fell through the cracks’ have not been supported. The Treasury has not yet moved to help or support these individuals and for many of these colleagues, their situation has not changed since March.

This recent article in the Guardian includes case studies and statistics of those most affected. These colleagues are in acute need and are still in the first, emergency phase of this COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of effective financial support is likely to have a disproportionate impact on freelancers from diverse backgrounds and with protected characteristics. Ubele has produced this report on the impact of Covid-19 on the BAME Community and Voluntary Sector which gives a snap-shot of the initial impact on these communities.

Urgent action on behalf of the self-employed workforce is needed to ensure that everyone has access to emergency funding.

  • We call on government to ensure that there are conditions set on both grant and loan funding that require successful recipients to demonstrate how the freelance community will benefit from the investment.

The full diversity of the arts and cultural sector must benefit

We believe that it is essential that term ‘crown jewels’ is applied to the full range of arts and cultural organisations delivering work in their communities – and that this must include tiny organisations, community organisations, brokerage, and voluntary, learning and participatory organisations just as much as larger, more well-known institutions.

Relationships to other funding

This is not the only financial statement for the arts and culture this year. The Summer Economic Update on 8 July from the Chancellor confirmed that there will be a Spending Round in the Autumn. As last year’s was only a one year ‘roll-over’, we were expecting  (pre-COVID) for this year’s to include full government spending plans for the next three years, and we will be wanting to make the strongest possible case for investment in the full diversity of arts and culture, and in cultural learning.

We will also want to check on the status of (and lobby for the retention of) funding such the £250 million Cultural Investment Fund (including the £90 million Cultural Development Fund) and the £270 million Arts Premium that were included in the March 2020 budget. If our sector is to survive it is absolutely essential that our Local Authorities are pro-actively and adequately funded.

We are also hopeful that the announcement of this fund will free up other funders to focus on the gaps in this support package. It is heartening to read in Darren Henley’s blog on the emergency fund that that ‘we are urgently thinking about what else we can do to strengthen our support for freelancers in the coming months.’

Governance and distribution

As always, it is important that the governance and processes that surround the distribution of this fund are equitable and transparent.

  • We call on the government to ensure that any oversight panel for funds includes diverse representation from across the sector and includes expertise on learning, participation and communities. It is also essential that equality impact assessments are applied to all elements of this process.

Whilst we understand that DCMS and Treasury will be setting criteria for this funding, we believe that it is essential  the funds for the arts and culture are used to ensure that the ambitions for Arts Council’s 10 year Let’s Create Strategy are deliverable, and that the right infrastructure is enabled to deliver it.

  • We call on the government to ensure that the Arts Council’s Let’s Create Strategy is used to set the criteria for the emergency grants and loans.

What else should we be aware of?

Whilst many arts and cultural organisations were forced to close their doors immediately with the onset of Covid-19, many pivoted swiftly around the needs of their communities and worked to design and deliver creative, innovative and critically important programmes of work. These organisations continue to be providing support for children and young people and families – offering homework support, learning opportunities, digital provision, creativity packs and much more.

All of these organisations are either following or awaiting guidance from the government on safe opening and delivery

At the end of June the Government published a performing arts road map, which set out the different activities that organisations can currently deliver.

  • Stage One- Rehearsal and training (no audiences and adhering to social distancing guidelines)
  • Stage Two- Performances for broadcast and recording purposes (adhering to social distancing guidelines)
  • Stage Three- Performances outdoors with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience
  • Stage Four- Performances allowed indoors/outdoors (but with a limited distanced audience indoors)
  • Stage Five - Performances allowed indoors/outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)

As of 8th of July we are at Stage 2, but from the 11th of July we will be moving to Stage 3.