Coronavirus: Extra £59m for Wales from new arts support package

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All shows for the rest of the year have been cancelled at the Wales Millennium Centre

Arts organisations in Wales are waiting to find out how much support they will get after the UK government announced a £1.57bn coronavirus support package.

It said a total of £59m will come to Wales, with the Welsh Government deciding how the money is spent.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the money will "help safeguard the sector for future generations".

But First Minister Mark Drakeford cast doubt on whether ministers would receive the funding.

He said he would "wait until Wednesday" - when the Chancellor Rishi Sunak will set out his summer statement - to decide whether the cash would all be spent on the arts in Wales. 

Earlier on Monday a spokesman withdrew an earlier Welsh Government statement saying the money would help protect "significant numbers of jobs and livelihoods in Wales' cultural sector".

After the Welsh Government was asked why, BBC Wales was told in principle the Welsh Government does not commit extra cash arising from new spending in England until it has been considered by cabinet.

Plaid Cymru and a number of Welsh arts figures including singer Charlotte Church called for the £59m to be spent on the Welsh arts "in full".

The news follows a warning from the first minister last week that the Welsh Government lacked the financial "firepower" to support the whole sector.

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Image caption,
The Lion King was due to start its run at the Wales Millennium Centre this month - it will now be 2022

UK government officials said the cash will provide "a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations across the country hit hard by the pandemic".

They added that the money will help venues "stay afloat while their doors are closed".

The support package - worth £1.15bn in England - means an extra £188m for the devolved administrations. While Wales gets £59m, Scotland will receive £97m and £33 for Northern Ireland.

But at his daily Welsh Government press conference Mark Drakeford said he was reluctant to "say anything on the £59m", saying his government could lose out from other changes in the Chancellor Rishi Sunak's statement on Wednesday.

"So easily on Wednesday we could learn that we are losing money from other changes made at Whitehall and there won't be £59m available at all," he said.

The first minister said the Welsh Government cabinet would need to make a decision "in the round" after hearing the Chancellor on Wednesday, before deciding what to spend the funding on.

Image caption,
Mark Drakeford said he was reluctant to commit to spending the money

Rhodri Prys Jones would normally be touring with the Welsh National Opera as a tenor, but because of the crisis has been working as a labourer.

"Hopefully the money is going to filter its way down," he said, "and it is going to come down to the freelancers and the people who are self-employed, rather than to the big companies."

Tamara Harvey, artistic director at Theatr Clwyd in Mold, urged the first minster to spend all the money coming from the UK government to help the arts.

"I understand that he and Welsh Government are in a really tricky position but we are a vital sector and a vital contributor to Wales."

'Absolutely delighted'

The chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales said he was "absolutely delighted" by the announcement.

Nick Capaldi has previously warned arts and cultural organisations in Wales were losing £1.4m a week as a result of Covid-19 closures.

He estimated Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff alone could lose £20m over the current financial year. The centre has warned 250 jobs are at risk after being forced to cancel all shows until next year.

He said the funding was "an absolute lifeline".

"We were facing the imminent collapse of a whole sector of our cultural and creative economy," he told BBC Radio Wales' Breakfast programme.

"This is an unprecedented amount of money for the arts and I pay credit to the UK government for understanding the need and responding.

"Now the challenge is for us working with other cultural organisations and, of course, the Welsh Government, to make sure that this money delivers what it must, which is the protection of jobs."

'It provides enormous security'

Responding to the announcement, the chief executive of Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff said the support would be "very welcome".

"It is essential for us to secure jobs, to secure people's livelihoods and allow us to plan our various reopenings of institutions, galleries, theatres and cinemas, in good time," said Andy Eagle.

"It provides enormous security, enormous hope for the sector."

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Image caption,
It has been nothing but empty seats as venues across Wales remain closed

The UK's Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said Wales was "no exception" when it came to the hardship facing arts, culture and heritage bodies due to coronavirus.

"We have no time to lose in getting this money to the front line and I'll be pushing the Welsh Government to ensure that happens."

Plaid Cymru issued a statement signed by Charlotte Church, harpist Catrin Finch, national poet of Wales Ifor ap Glyn, actor Mark Lewis Jones and Clwb Ifor Bach chief executive Guto Brychan, warning the sector could collapse within a month without urgent action.

The party's leader Adam Price called for a "task force" to be set up to make sure the money was distributed fairly.

The chair of the Senedd's culture committee, Helen Mary Jones, also called on ministers to ensure pall of the money received from the UK government "will be used to support the cultural sector".

Ms Jones questioned whether the Welsh Government was content with the £59m consequential from the UK government given that it "is noticeably less than a population-based share of the total £1.57bn funding package."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We welcome today's announcement and have been calling for extra funding to protect our cultural, arts and heritage institutions for some time."

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