• Thursday, May 19, 2022

Coronavirus

UK plans ‘Seat Out to Help Out’ discounts for coronavirus-hit theatres

People at a theater looking at a dress rehearsal of ballet performing arts

By: Sarwar Alam

The UK government is planning to introduce a so-called ‘Seat Out to Help Out’ scheme to help theatres and other entertainment venues reopen after an extended period of coronavirus lockdown since earlier this year.

According to The Sunday Times, the scheme will be modelled on UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s successful ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ restaurant discount offering as a means to boost the coronavirus-hit hospitality sector.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and culture secretary Oliver Dowden are said to be keen on the idea and have directed government officials to work out a speedy strategy.

“There have been meetings this week. Direction has been given at a very senior level to work at extreme pace on this. The PM is keen on making rapid progress,” a government official told the newspaper.

“Rapid testing is seen as the thing that can unlock the issue of getting audiences back,” the official said.

As part of the entertainment sector equivalent of the dining out scheme, discounted tickets of around £10 each alongside a meal discount before or after shows in a tie-up between theatres and nearby restaurants is being considered.

“It could be tickets for a tenner (£10) on a Monday, with a link to local restaurants,” the newspaper quoted a government source as saying.

Plans for the new scheme follow Sunak’s just-concluded ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ concept, which offered half-price food and non-alcoholic drinks up to a limit of £10 per person on Mondays to Wednesdays throughout August.

Earlier this week, he thanked the British public for embracing the scheme with enthusiasm and helping to protect thousands of jobs as official Treasury figures revealed that more than 100 million meals were served as part of the offer.

“Figures continue to show Eat Out to Help Out has been a success. I want to thank everyone, from restaurant owners to waiters, chefs and diners, for embracing it and helping drive our economic recovery,” said Sunak.

“The scheme is just one part of our Plan for Jobs and we will continue to protect, support and create jobs to ensure we come back stronger as a nation,” he said.

Under the UK government’s roadmap for a phased lifting of lockdown restrictions to keep a handle on the spread of coronavirus, November 1 is the first date at which social distancing might be lifted considerably for such venues.

However, under plans being drafted, it is hoped that some large venues may be able to reopen sooner.

In meetings last week, the newspaper claims that is has been agreed that theatres and sports venues will become key beneficiaries of the government’s Operation Moonshot programme, which aims to test up to four million people a day for the coronavirus using new saliva tests that give results in minutes.

Proposals being worked on would see those with tickets for plays and football matches tested in advance and then chased up a few days after the event.

Current rules, which require social distancing and the wearing of masks at cultural venues mean theatres can operate at only 25 per cent capacity.

Ministers have been told that to be financially viable that figure needs to be between 70 per cent and 80 per cent. Large sports venues need to be 60 per cent full.

Sunak has already handed out £1.57 billion towards a cultural recovery fund to save theatres, museums and other cultural institutions from bankruptcy.

Ministers now want other supportive plans in place ahead of the pre-Christmas season, which is a key money-spinner for theatres and entertainment venues.

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