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Rishi Sunak insists he was misquoted after he reportedly told COVID-hit musicians to re-train

By | Published on Wednesday 7 October 2020


UK Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak yesterday insisted that his comments on the need for people to adapt and potentially re-train as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put huge strain on the economy were not specifically aimed at musicians and people working in the creative sector.

Sunak told ITV News: “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis. That’s why we’ve put a lot of resource into trying to create new opportunities”.

An initial report suggested those comments were specifically targeted at those in the music and creative sectors currently unable to work because of continued COVID-19 restrictions. That prompted anger in the music community, where many people already feel that ministers have pretty much written off the live entertainment and event sectors as “unviable” now that it looks likely that COVID restrictions will need to be in place into 2021.

ITV News subsequently amended its report and Sunak stated on Twitter: “An earlier ITV News tweet falsely suggested I thought people in arts should retrain and find other jobs. I’m grateful they have now deleted that tweet. I care deeply about the arts which is why our £1.57 billion culture package is one of the most generous in the world”.

Since it emerged that the revised general COVID support schemes for employees and the self-employed are primarily aimed at those companies and people whose businesses are now getting back to normal post the full-on COVID lockdown – and are therefore not much used to many in the live entertainment and event sectors – the government has repeatedly bigged up its £1.57 billion in sector-specific support for the cultural and heritage industries.

It remains to be seen how big an impact that support has. In England, money will be distributed to music and creative businesses via Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund. News on who will benefit from that – originally expected on Monday – will now emerge next week.

Though, as organisations like the Musicians’ Union have repeatedly pointed out, freelancers in the music industry will not directly benefit from that fund at all. Which makes the cut in general COVID funding for the self-employed – and ongoing limitations that mean some freelancers have had no support at all – all the more problematic.

MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge stressed that again yesterday in response to Sunak’s remarks. Speaking before the Chancellor insisted that those remarks were misrepresented, Trubridge said: “The Chancellor’s comments this morning suggesting that musicians should retrain are very disappointing. We know that our members’ jobs are entirely viable jobs – the only reason they are currently unable to work is because of the government’s coronavirus restrictions”.

“We have been working with the government to try to ensure that all musicians are able to get back to work safely as soon as possible”, he went on. “But as things stand 70% are currently unable to do more than a quarter of their usual work. In the meantime, we desperately need the Chancellor to expand the [self-employed support grants] to cover more than 20% of monthly profits and plug the gaps that mean that 38% of musicians are ineligible for the wage support schemes”.

He then added: “We also urge the Treasury and the Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to allow Arts Council England to distribute some of the £1.57 billion dedicated to culture to individual freelancers – as the devolved administrations have done in Wales and Scotland”.