Scottish Government must give culture fair chance to recover without further delay - Brian Ferguson

At long last, the Scottish cultural sector has been a glimmer of genuine hope, if not much more than that just yet.

The country’s festival and event organisers, theatres, concert halls, comedy clubs and cinemas have been promised they will finally be given news on how and when they may finally be able to come back to life.

Lockdown restrictions may have eased many weeks ago for other sectors of the economy, such as retail and hospitality, but for most of those working in live entertainment a return to any kind of normality has felt a long way off.

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The Scottish Government has promised to tackle two of the biggest hurdles to recovery for the live entertainment sector next week, following four months of lobbying and campaigning from promoters, festival organisers, performers and venues.

It was back in March that the then culture secretary Fiona Hyslop declared that the government would be working to support the return of major events in Scotland over the summer, at a time when their prospects of returning from their hiatus looked remote.

When a reopening date of 17 May was later announced for venues, there was a fair assumption that live events would be reopening shortly after hotels, bars and restaurants were able to return in April.

However, during the pre-election period, the government imposed an absurd two metre social distancing restriction on live events, making them virtually impossible for all but a handful of heavily subsidised events and venues.

This would be hard enough to stomach were it not for the fact that operators of bars and restaurants secured permission to operate with one metre distancing last July, ahead of the initial reopening of the hospitality sector.

The fate of this year's Fringe is still hanging in the balance. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
The fate of this year's Fringe is still hanging in the balance. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The opening of a vast beer garden in the guise of a football fanzone for up to 6000 people on Glasgow Green after the event secured exemption from the city’s strict Covid rules has merely rubbed salt into the wounds of event organisers venue operators who have spent months grappling with guidelines routinely described as impossible to work with.

An early June deadline for meeting a pre-election pledge to review these restrictions came and went, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has given the strongest indications yet that they will finally be eased in the near future.

In her latest Covid update at Holyrood, she acknowledged the frustrations over “perceived anomalies” and pledged that next week’s review would be of “particular interest” to the cultural sector.

At that point, she will also explain how Scotland will get to the point where it can “lift all, or virtually all, of the remaining restrictions.” This is expected to be the trigger for full-capacity events to return to stadia, concert venues and theatres in Scotland.

Intriguingly, the next big date for restrictions to ease in Scotland is 19 July, the same date Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been forced to work towards in the face of the new Covid variant.

Despite Ms Sturgeon’s famously cautious approach to the easing of restrictions, Scotland has never been that far behind England with its lockdown rules – except over live events.

Bringing them into line with the hospitality sector without any further delay after next week should be the first step to put them back on the road to recovery.

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