Covid Scotland: Arts businesses facing 'cliff edge' of furlough and continued restrictions

The combination of the end of furlough and a delay to the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions means arts and entertainment businesses are facing a “cliff edge”, it has been claimed.

The warning came after Nicola Sturgeon announced further delays to the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland, stating it was “unlikely” the Scottish Government would move any part of Scotland down a level on June 28.

Instead, it is most likely restrictions will stay as they are for at least a further three weeks until July 19 in the hope vaccinations can catch up with the spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to update MSPs on any changes to the Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland

However, Linda Boyd, director of the Morningside School of Music in Edinburgh, warned that many in the arts and entertainment business may not be able to last that long.

She said: “Many of our clients are employed in the arts industry and they’re seriously concerned about what’s going to happen next.

“They’re facing a cliff-edge moment.

“The furlough scheme has been a great support net from them, but they know it can’t last forever and they just need an opportunity to work.”

Those in the arts and entertainment sector are the second most likely employees to still be on furlough and are three times more likely than the average Scot to have not returned to work.

Around 29.1 per cent of those working in the sector are believed to still be on furlough, according to Scottish Government figures, behind only those working in the accommodation or food service industry (30.9 per cent).

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak is under pressure to extend furlough beyond the current end date of July 1 when employers will be asked to subsidise more of the wages of their employees still unable to work.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s business spokesperson in Westminster, said it would be “unthinkable” for such a move to go ahead.

He said: “With lockdown measures still in place, it is essential that Boris Johnson extends full furlough and business support to protect people's jobs, incomes and livelihoods.

"It would be utterly unthinkable for the Tories to cut support prematurely, which would put many businesses at risk of going under and make thousands of people redundant across the UK."

However, Ms Boyd said many employees in the arts sector were “desperate to get to work” and called for an “urgent plan” to open venues quickly.

She said: “We really need to see an urgent plan to open venues up safely or we risk losing these people and their skills altogether.

“And if that can’t happen, governments need to come up with ways to financially support them until they’ve found a way to let them work again.”

The Scottish Government announced it would publish the results of a review into physical distancing next week in response to concerns around unduly strict restrictions on the arts and entertainments sector.

The review could pave the way for more businesses and venues to be able to operate more sustainably under current restrictions.

The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.

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