New Scottish culture secretary promises swift relaxation of curbs on live events
Scotland's new culture secretary has pledged live events will be allowed to return as soon as possible and insisted the government is “acutely aware” of the impact of controversial curbs on the performing arts.
Angus Robertson suggested restrictions, which are currently much tighter for venues than bars or restaurants in Scotland, would be eased in time to help Edinburgh's festivals bounce back this summer.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised that a long-awaited review of the current social distancing restrictions will be announced next week.
She has also pledged to explore whether “perceived anomalies” in the current restrictions can be tackled.
Under the restrictions put in place ahead of an official reopening date for live entertainment, all venues and festivals must enforced two metre distancing on audiences, regardless of whether they are indoors or outdoors.
However, bars and restaurants were given the green light to operate at one metre distancing last July ahead of the initial easing of lockdown restrictions.
Industry leaders in Scotland have also been lobbying for the reopening rules for the country’s live events and festivals to be brought into line with the sector in England, where venues and events have been able to operate at half-capacity capacity since mid-May.
The Scottish Government has refused to set out a timetable for the easing of restrictions on the events industry later in the summer and has repeatedly told the organisers of Edinburgh’s festivals they should plan on the basis of the two metre rule still being in place in August.
A promised review of the distancing restrictions, which was due by June 7, has been put back until next week by Ms Sturgeon, to the dismay of organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said the lack of parity on distancing with bars and restaurants, and the ongoing absence of clear guidelines for venues for this August, had left the event “falling through the cracks” and at risk of being “irreparably” damaged.
Theatre operators and music venues have previously told how the current rules make it “virtually impossible” to reopen without running at a loss.
Speaking at Holyrood, Mr Robertson said: “One of the first things I did after my appointment was to call a meeting of stakeholders, principally across the events sector.
"I heard at first hand the challenges they are facing. We are acutely aware of them. It is an existential challenge to many of them.
"We’re doing as much as we can given the Covid circumstances we find ourselves on.
“The First Minister made specific reference to the importance of the arts and culture sector. We should all expect to hear more on this next week.
"We are absolutely seized of trying to open up Scotland’s civic, artistic and cultural life as quickly, but as safely as possible.”
Mr Robertson said the government was working with the city council to ensure the Fringe could return in August.
The Edinburgh Central MSP added: “I totally understand and acknowledge that people in the cultural community want maximum transparency and advance warning of when changes are possible.
"We’ve listened closely to representatives of the sector in the broadest sense across Scotland, but particularly in Edinburgh, given that the festivals are approaching in the next month.”