Covid in Scotland: Plan to reopen Scotland's arts venues 'not viable'

image copyrightVisitScotland
image captionComedy clubs are among venues which have been shut for more than a year

A top comedy club promoter has criticised the Scottish government's decision to impose two-metre distancing on arts venues.

The Stand comedy club chain boss Mike Jones was reacting to news that venues such as theatres and comedy clubs will be able to reopen on Monday.

But the two-metre distancing rule will be in place until a review is conducted over the next three weeks.

Many venue operators had warned that the rule would make reopening unviable.

Mr Jones, who runs two comedy clubs in Scotland and one in England, expressed anger at the distancing announcement.

He said: "I think it is highly disingenuous to announce to the public that venues are reopening on Monday, while simultaneously maintaining the key obstacle to opening on a viable basis.

"I don't understand the rationale that pubs can open on a one-metre social distancing basis but theatres and comedy clubs have to stick to two metres.

"It's just not viable for us to reopen if we can only achieve 10% to 20% of normal capacity.

"I don't know what the review will conclude but if distancing is not reduced, it is not much use to us."

image copyrightThe Stand
image captionMike Jones says it's not viable for his venues to reopen under two-metre rules

Mr Jones also pointed to the contrast with England's one-metre rule which will allow him to reopen his Newcastle venue next week.

"The delay in Scotland will mean venues here lagging by at least six weeks," he added.

In the latest Scottish government Covid update, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that public venues would be able to reopen on Monday, with up to 100 people being able to attend an indoor event.

Events organisers will also be able to apply to hold bigger events following assessment.

However, some performance arts operators north of the border expressed disappointment at the distancing review announcement.

image copyrightColin Hattersley
image captionScottish Opera hopes "clear guidance will be published as soon as possible"

Scottish Opera general director Alex Reedijk said: "We are very pleased with today's news that overall things are moving in the right direction for Scotland.

"However, we are disappointed that social distancing has not been relaxed for the theatre sector to the extent that it has been for the hospitality sector.

"We hope clear guidance will be published as soon as possible, as we believe there are many Scottish venues that have the capacity to host indoor events safely."

Glasgow's Tron Theatre chief executive Andy Arnold said the review offered "a glimmer of hope" but added that even a one-metre distancing rule would be "extremely limiting" in terms of filling his venue.

Mr Arnold, who warned ahead of the announcement that two-metre distancing made reopening financially unviable, also drew a comparison with new level two rules for households.

image copyrightJohn Johnston
image captionTron Theatre in Glasgow

"If we are now allowed to have six people hugging each other in their homes, surely that is no safer than sitting in fully-ventilated large theatre, with everyone wearing a mask, facing in the same way and not moving," he said.

Mr Arnold added that even if the rules were to be relaxed after the review, his theatre would not be able to reopen for performances until the autumn.

The Scottish government said it planned to ask Creative Scotland to run a second funding round in order to support cultural organisations.

A spokeswoman said: "This will be a top-up for those organisations which received support previously and also help eligible organisations which did not receive funding in the first round.

"This will be funded from the expected £40m consequentials from culture provision when confirmed by the UK government.

"The Scottish government is assessing physical distancing more generally and this will also apply to performances, venues and events.

"We will set out the conclusions of that at the next review point."

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