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Dorries passes the UK/Europe touring crisis buck to a junior minister

The performance touring sector has reacted angrily to Nadine Dorries, the new UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) passing their 1,600-signature plea for help to a junior minister with no experience in the field.

Individuals, businesses and industry bodies from across the UK’s creative industries signed the letter, prepared by the pressure group Carry On Touring, in the hope that the new DCMS regime would show more sympathy than Dorries’ predecessor Oliver Dowden’s team had.

But instead of responding herself, the Culture Secretary left it to Julia Gomez, a junior minister, to send a digitally signed letter containing numerous inaccuracies.

The reaction from Carry On Touring’s co-founder, Freelance Touring Vision Engineer Tim Brennan, was swift and angry, and was echoed by industry leaders from across the sector.

‘Carry On Touring wrote an open letter to Nadine Dorries MP the current incumbent of the role on 22 September 2021. The letter, signed by over 1600 creative professionals and creative trade bodies covering everything from fashion, music, theatre, dance, photography, film and TV production, pointed out that the announcement made by the DCMS on 4 August was an attempt to state that we could freely tour in 19 of the 27 States that make up the EU. This statement is misleading at best.

‘So, I was disappointed that the Secretary of State deemed the letter not of significant importance to deal with herself, instead handing it to a junior minister to deal with, who has not only been in post just a little over six weeks, but as her letterhead implies is the Minister of State for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure. Yet she states she is responsible for touring in the EU, which in my view forms only a small, but important cog in the £111 billion machine that is the Creative Industries.

A massive hindrance to all manner of creative professionals

‘There is nothing new in the response from Julia Lopez MP and in fact [it] continues to state the same line as the announcement on the 4 August, that we are freely able to undertake touring in now 20 member states.

‘This does not take into account the 90/180 days that we can access the Schengen area, and therefore proves a massive hindrance to all manner of creative professionals that will rapidly burn through that time allowance and then have to leave the area for a further 90 days.

‘The Minister states that it is down to individual travellers to check the requirements for each member state that they are travelling to, it is extremely difficult to locate all the relevant information and is leading to confusion amongst creatives as to how to go about touring within the EU.’

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, was equally firm in her response.

We need to see evidence of concrete progress towards bilateral negotiations

‘It’s disappointing that the Minister has repeated the claim that the Government has secured short-term, visa-free touring in 20 EU member states. The ISM and many other creative sector organisations have made it clear that this is not the case. Depending on the length and type of work, musicians working in these countries will still require a visa or work permit and it is highly unhelpful and misleading for the Government to claim that they won’t. 

‘Securing comprehensive solutions for touring creatives should be an urgent priority for DCMS ministers. We need to see evidence of concrete progress towards bilateral negotiations with member states to secure work permit exemptions. There is no reason for the Government not to urgently pursue a bespoke EU-wide Visa Waiver Agreement for our sector. A VWA would remove many of the costly and bureaucratic hurdles that creatives currently face.’

This first response from the new DCMS ministry has come as a blow to many sectors of the creative industries, including television and theatre production, dance and fashion. Notably, the issue of transport rules continues to be fobbed off by DCMS, and events companies see the allowance of splitter vans for small bands access to tour as small comfort.

Duncan Bell of We Make Events responded to Carry On Touring’s comments, accusing the ministry of continuing to spin and exaggerate the truth. 

‘I notice they have updated the Gov.uk site today, which stills implies touring is possible,’ he said. ‘Clarification on splitters is positive, but the issue seems that there is still a shortage of appetite to actually act as demonstrated by “It is not Government policy to agree visa waivers”.

‘Finally, all of this overlooks the point that we still can’t return to normal as we are stuck with cabotage and the ‘No trucks = no touring’ issue.’

That Nadine Dorries saw fit to pass off the multi-billion pound crisis to a junior has shocked many, but Carry On Touring is still holding out an olive branch to help the DCMS understand just how damaging the effects of Brexit have been.

There has been no real effort on behalf of the DCMS to understand what it is the creative industries actually do

‘The government should setup a Creative Touring Export Office that can collate and update the information needed by travellers and publish it on the www.Gov website,’ continues Tim Brennan.

‘In summary I feel there has been no real effort on behalf of the DCMS to understand what it is the creative industries actually do and how they have been dramatically affected by the lack of clarity surrounding post-Brexit creative touring and working within the EU and the need for a pan European visa/work permit waiver for the creative industries.

‘Carry on Touring would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Secretary of State to explain from a boots-on-the-ground perspective, just how important touring and working freely within the EU is to creative professionals.’