The prolonged shutdown of Scotland’s events industry is threatening scores of jobs across Tayside and Fife.
The Scottish Government recently announced a £10 million shot-in-the-arm for the sector, aimed at supporting live music venues and businesses facing an uncertain future.
However, companies that rely on a busy year-round calendar of concerts and shows say much more support is needed, with lockdown effectively banning them from working.
Bosses at Perthshire-based Catalyst, the firm behind the spectacular opening ceremony at last year’s Solheim Cup, say the business may not survive much longer without extra assistance.
Managing Director Graeme Craig said the continuing closure of the events sector places a question mark over his 36-strong workforce (all but three are on furlough). The firm also supports about 30 freelance staff.
“This should have been a bumper year for us,” he said. “We were looking forward to a really busy 2020.
“But now if we can survive the year, that will be enough for us.”
Bridge of Earn-based Catalyst, which has hosted shows for, amongst others, fashions and fragrances giant Dior and the Scottish Rugby Union, lost about £1.5 million through cancellations in the last week of March.
“This was the first industry to be hit by Coronavirus and we will be the last one to get back out,” said Mr Craig. “It is still illegal to run events for 30 or more people, so there is nothing we can do to generate money.
“Until events are deemed safe by the government, we’re left in limbo. And on top of that, a lot of our corporate customers say it doesn’t matter what governments advise, they’ve already decided they won’t be doing any events for the rest of 2020.”
The plea for support comes after Perth and Kinross Council cancelled its iconic Christmas Lights party and the rest of its four-month Winter Festival.
Local authority officers said although rules could be relaxed in Phase Four of the government’s route out of lockdown, they don’t want to invest time, money and precious resources into an event that could be cancelled at the last minute.
Mr Craig, whose company worked with Underbelly on Edinburgh’s world famous Hogmanay show, said: “There is no date yet for Phase Four and every time there’s a situation like what happened in Aberdeen, it simply resets the clock for us.
“We, as a company, don’t want to start crying and begging for help, but the truth is that we can’t fix this by ourselves.
“I’m not bashing the Scottish Government, because I think they have done a pretty good job, but we can’t just work harder, or double down and get on with things, because we simply can’t work at all.”
The combined events and arts industry, including TV and film delivers about £6 billion to the Scottish economy each year.
Catalyst was formed in 2003 and has an annual turnover of about £4.1 million. Staff range from warehouse operatives to project managers, as well as designers, logistic teams and health and safety officers.
The Scottish Government’s £10m package was announced at the end of July. A spokesman said: “We understand this is a deeply difficult time for those in the events industry.
“We don’t want the restrictions in place for any longer than is needed, but in order to continue to suppress Covid-19 the advice remains that most live events cannot take place at present.”
He said: “We’ve worked closely and constructively with the sector, including the Events Industry Advisory Group which has representatives from the supply chain, and the sector have brought forward some creative ideas on how events can begin to operate safely.”
The spokesman added: “Scotland has a successful record of planning and delivering events at international, national and local level. We are determined to ensure that the sector has a future and that we remain the perfect stage for events.”
The plight of the UK events industry, and the threat to more than a million jobs, has become the focus of a national campaign.
Organisers behind the #WeMakeEvents drive – which saw 715 buildings lit up in red earlier this week – believe the UK Government’s £1.57 billion investment into cultural and arts institutions will not reach many of the industry’s key workers.
Peter Heath, managing director of campaign leaders PLASA – Professional Lighting and Sound Association – said: “The live events industry supply chain, essential to every single event in the UK, is set to completely collapse without financial support from the government, due to social distancing prohibiting mass events.
“Large scale events are not expected to reopen until Spring 2021 at the earliest, and the reality is that the sector can’t wait that long.”
He said: “While the government’s commitment to provide £1.57bn to our crown jewels is welcome, this does not help the companies and freelancers who work in the live events supply chain.”
TRNSMT festival organiser Geoff Ellis, the man behind T in the Park, has welcomed state support but said the sector needs more.
“The issue we have as an industry is that we can’t really get back, in most areas, until social distancing goes away.
“The government has said that they need social distancing in place until a vaccine is available and that just doesn’t work for concerts.”
He added: “There’s a whole eco-system of people and jobs around concerts and events.
“It’s good that the government is recognising the problems and that we need support.
“I don’t think we realistically expect any concerts on a large-scale until next spring so we’ve got a long way to go.”
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