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MU Calls on Government to Support Orchestras Affected by Arts Council England Funding Cuts

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl has written to the Chancellor and Culture Secretary calling for support for Northern Ballet, English National Opera, Royal Opera House and the wider sector.

Published: 30 October 2023 | 12:36 PM Updated: 30 October 2023 | 1:17 PM
Naomi Pohl talks animatedly to two visitors to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden
The Government must act urgently to save our world-renowned orchestras. Photo credit: Musicians' Union

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl has written to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer calling for help for Northern Ballet, English National Opera, Royal Opera House and other arts organisations struggling with real terms funding cuts that threaten musicians’ jobs and pay.

She briefed the Chancellor and Culture Secretary on current financial pressures that are leading to reduced touring and job losses, writing:

“The financial pressures include the lingering impact of the pandemic closure period, rising costs such as energy, travel and accommodation, plus at best static public funding. For organisations like ENO and Royal Opera House that run listed buildings, the costs of doing so have risen sharply and this is affecting their budgets for creative output.”

“While the Covid recovery loans were intended to keep organisations like these running through the height of the pandemic crisis and out the other side, many cannot afford to repay them now without making significant additional cuts to their budgets.”

Cuts affect musicians across England and Wales

Naomi also spoke directly about issues at Northern Ballet and English National Opera, as well as highlighting reduced touring activity at Glyndebourne and Welsh National Opera.

Musicians earn an average of £20,000 per year from music according to the Musicians’ Census 2023 – the same average earnings recorded when the union surveyed members in 2013. Musicians face increasing costs at the same time as pay has stagnated.

The Government must act urgently to save our world-renowned orchestras

The MU has asked for the Government to consider:

  • Writing off Covid recovery loans for the already struggling live performance sector (or delaying repayment)
  • Making the extension of orchestral and theatre tax relief permanent (giving organisations the ability to plan with more certainty)
  • Reversing Nadine Dorries’ instruction to Arts Council England that led to ENO being asked to relocate outside of London; if ENO were able to stay in London, they wouldn't be cutting union members’ work in half.

The UK Government’s position is in stark contrast to Scotland, where the First Minister Humza Yousaf recently committed to an additional £100million arts and culture funding over the next five years. The MU is campaigning to make sure that this happens, and that money is front loaded to protect Scottish arts organisations in crisis now.

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