The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), one of the biggest employers in British theatre, is to lay off more than 1,200 casual staff when the government furlough scheme ends in September, with unions saying the delay in releasing the £1.57bn arts recovery package continues to put jobs at risk.
ATG, which has a portfolio that includes the Liverpool Empire, King’s Theatre Glasgow and more than half a dozen West End theatres, confirmed the jobs would go when the furlough scheme ends, with zero-hours contract and casual staff being affected.
The company said it had informed casual staff they would no longer receive furlough pay through the government’s Job Retention Scheme after the end of August. “The impact of the pandemic, which has left theatres closed since 16 March and without any clear opening date with no social distancing, has forced the company to make this difficult decision,” a spokesperson said.
Bectu, the media and entertainment union, has lobbied for the workers to be kept on the scheme and says many theatres are being forced to make cuts because of a combination of the £1.57bn rescue package not being released to theatres and having no clear reopening date.
The head of Bectu, Philippa Childs, said the arts recovery package was “not effective, because it’s not quick enough” with companies not knowing if they would qualify, how much money they would get if they were successful or when the funds would be received.
Childs added that because of ATG’s size and prominence in the industry it “tends to set a trend” and that now the worry was more large-scale lay offs would happen before the government’s rescue package could have any impact.
The Southbank Centre said the 400 staff members it put at risk of redundancy were going to be offered significantly worse terms than those typically offered pre-lockdown. It said that if it paid staff the pre-lockdown package of three weeks’ pay for every year of service, it could put it at risk of insolvency.
On Wednesday, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, told Radio 4’s Today programme it was likely to be November “at the earliest” before theatres were given a date when they could reopen without social distancing.
The announcement means that for many theatres the possibility of putting on a Christmas show or pantomime, which can account for a quarter of some theatre’s annual takings, is now incredibly unlikely.
The West End producer Cameron Mackintosh said the government’s proposal to announce the date when theatres coul reopen fully in November would be “devastating” to the sector. He said he would need to open box offices in November at the latest to be able to get his theatres and productions back up and running by Easter 2021.
In a column in the Evening Standard, he wrote: “If the government is unable to support this, we’re likely to have to push back our reopening to next summer, causing further devastating losses to both the theatre industry and London’s economy.”
More job losses in the theatre sector have been announced this week with Nimax, a company that runs six West End theatres, saying it will axe 130 roles when the furlough scheme ends on 31 August.
Nica Burns, Nimax chief executive, confirmed the job losses, which will affect box office workers, stage door workers, and technical and management teams. “We would like to reopen our theatres safely as soon as the government allows, get our staff back up and open as soon as we safely can,” Burns said.