Coronavirus: what kind of financial support is available to museums and workers?

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 19.03.2020
Governments unveil emergency measures to rescue economy
The UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a £330bn rescue package of emergency loans for businesses in England, as well as £20bn in other aid, in response to the escalating Covid-19 pandemic.

Ministers in the Welsh government have announced a £1.4bn business support package that matches the measures in England. The Scottish government has so far confirmed a £350m support package for businesses, and the Northern Ireland Executive has set aside £370m to support the “most vulnerable businesses”. It is not yet clear how these measures apply to the charitable sector.

The chancellor is also reportedly considering "reverse National Insurance" for firms - funding to enable them to keep their employees on the books rather than laying them off.

The Covid-19 crisis, which escalated rapidly this week as public spaces began to close their doors indefinitely, is already having a significant financial impact on many museums.

The director of one large independent museum told Museums Journal it is facing a “financial nightmare” due to the loss of visitor income. The secretary of another museum told us that both their institution and a separately run cafe are in jeopardy.

The support announced by Sunak so far includes:

  • A business interruption loan scheme to provide grants of up to £5m to businesses, with no interest due for the first six months
  • Cash grants of £25,000 available for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses
  • Smallest businesses will be able to seek grants of up to £10,000
  • Twelve-month business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses
  • Businesses and self-employed people in financial distress can request deferment or support with their tax affairs from HMRC
  • Three-month mortgage holidays for homeowners 
  • Planned legislation to protect private renters from eviction
  • A £500m "hardship fund" for local authorities in England to help vulnerable people
  • Two weeks' statutory sick pay covered by the government.

“Overall this package of measures is very welcome at a time of great uncertainty,” said Alistair Brown, the Museums Association's (MA) policy manager

“However, with the chancellor's focus on supporting business activities, it is vitally important that museums - across a wide variety of types and sizes - are able to access the help that is on offer to other sectors.

“We need to be sure that charities can access the same package of grants and loans as businesses so that independent museums that are most reliant on earned income can get emergency support.”

Brown said the business rates holiday would also be a help, though he added that “because museums are subject to different rates depending on their specific circumstances, we need to ensure that the benefits of this relief are felt as widely as possible across the sector”.

Brown called for "clarity and support" from government agencies and funding bodies to help museums to navigate the process of applying for support.

In addition to these wider measures, the MA is calling for more targeted protection for museum workers and the sector.

In a statement this week, it said existing resources should be diverted to an emergency sector support fund, including the £120m earmarked for the 2022 Festival of Britain, money earmarked for capital projects that are not yet funded, and cash from the recently unveiled £250 Cultural Investment Fund. 

Brown also called on the government to provide more assistance for individual workers. He said: “This was an announcement aimed at supporting businesses and organisations. I hope there will be more support forthcoming for individuals, freelancers, people in self isolation, carers etc. in line with many other European countries.”

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