The campaign group Carry on Touring has delivered an open letter to the new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) pleading for action to save the UK’s huge touring arts industry.
With almost no movement from her predecessors in the department over the nine months since Brexit, figures from the music, fashion, theatre, performing arts and other creative industries have signed the letter.
The letter rebuffs as misleading the previous Secretary Oliver Dowden’s claim that the government had secured visa-free short-term touring in 19 EU member states. ‘This is not a solution for UK touring professionals,’ it says, and calls for a pan-European EU visa and work permit waiver of the type offered by the EU but refused by the UK government’s negotiator, David Frost.
A devasting blow to an already hard-hit sector
Since then, Oliver Dowden and his Minister, Caroline Dinenage, have struggled to progress via a series of piecemeal meetings with individual member states, while the Government refused to attempt to re-open discussions on a pan-EU basis. Referring to Dowden and Dinenage’s triumphalism over getting 19 countries to offer a range of visa options, the letter says, ‘This is not a solution for UK touring professionals, creatives and artists. Rather it is a devastating blow to an already hard-hit sector which makes a huge and vital contribution to the UK economy. Real jobs and real lives are at stake, and we believe your announcement will do absolutely nothing to help us get back on tour.’
The letter asks Nadine Dorries MP for, ‘clarity, not more chaos and confusion,’ highlighting examples of EU countries where visas are not available without unworkable amounts of bureaucracy.
One of the letter’s signatories, Horace Trubridge, the Musicians’ Union General Secretary, said, ‘The new restrictions and regulations brought about by the UK leaving the EU are squeezing the life-blood out of overseas touring. Our government singularly failed to secure the frictionless mobility of musicians that we were promised in the run-up to Brexit and it must now do everything in its power to restore this vital element of a musician’s working calendar.’
Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, called the current situation Kafkaesque and pleaded with the new Secretary of State for more commitment to solving the problem, ‘For the good of the touring industry the Government should prioritise negotiating with the EU to secure a Visa Waiver Agreement and a better deal for the Creative industries.
‘With COVID-19 restrictions easing, artists should be planning future tours but are finding their path blocked by Kafkaesque red tape and restrictions. A new Secretary of State means now is the time for new thinking and we hope that she will put getting Britain back on tour at the very top of her to-do list.’
‘I hope that the new Secretary of State will consider touring as her first order of business’
The Carry on Touring campaign leader Tim Brennan commented, ‘How can the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport promote confidence within production managers and hire companies to use UK passport holding freelancers and creatives for their European events, given the extra risks, red tape and cost that it involves in obtaining the correct authorisation?
‘I hope that the new Secretary of State will consider touring as her first order of business and work with the sector to find the solutions we desperately need.’
The letter, which is also signed by many artists and representatives of all the creative industry bodies, is polite but forthright, hoping that it will impress upon Dorries the level of crisis the creative touring industries face.
But with visas being only one of numerous issues preventing European tours from going ahead and over 200,000 jobs at stake, it remains to be seen whether she will be able to do much.
The full letter and list of signatories can be found here.