Scottish culture warned over ‘significant’ threat from cost of living crisis

Almost half of Scots are likely to cut back on spending on arts and culture events in the face of the cost of living crisis, according to new research warning that soaring household bills could have a "significant" impact on the industry.

Thursday, 16th June 2022, 4:55 am
Rhine Drummond, Blythe Jandoo, Keith Jack, Connor Going were among the cast of Sunshine On Leith, which was brought to halt at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh this week due to cases of Covid. Picture: Greg Macvean
Rhine Drummond, Blythe Jandoo, Keith Jack, Connor Going were among the cast of Sunshine On Leith, which was brought to halt at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh this week due to cases of Covid. Picture: Greg Macvean

The recovery of Scotland's cultural sector is also being held back by health concerns about going to indoor events, using public transport and socialising with large groups of friends, the survey found.

Researchers have raised concerns that the economic impact of cultural events would be reduced on what it was pre-Covid because of a reluctance by some people to visit “multiple locations” on a night out or meet people from outwith their own household.

The new report has been published by market research market company Scotinform, which works with arts organisations and events across Scotland, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

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Its report describes customer sentiment in the cultural sector as "highly volatile," with a "sizeable cohort" of audiences cautious about going back to events.

The research found that more than half of those who had previously gone to events are likely to only look to go to free experiences and events due to cost of living concerns, while 10 per of people said they were unlikely to be able to afford to go to any events at all for the foreseeable future.

Nearly two thirds of Scotinform’s respondents said they would be paying more attention to the cost of cultural events, while more than half said they would be less likely to spend on food and drink when going to a cultural event or venue.

Scotinform has been surveying regular attendees at arts events since venues and festivals were forced to shut down in the face of the pandemic in March 2020.Its new findings have emerged after two of Edinburgh’s leading theatres were forced to call off performances of shows this week due to cases of Covid in the cast.The King’s and the Royal Lyceum had to pull the plug on performances of Sunshine on Leith and Laurel & Hardy respectively.

According to the research, just 60 per cent of pre-lockdown theatregoers and concertgoers have returned in the past year, although 91 per cent of those who had been to a cultural venue or attraction said they had felt comfortable.

One in three of those surveyed said they were only comfortable about returning to outdoor events.

Around 22 per cent of respondents who used to take public transport to events said they would be less likely to do so now, while 27 per cent who used to go to a pub or bar before an event said they were still reluctant to return to socialising there.

Around two thirds of those polled said they had no concerns about going back to events either indoors or outdoors.

However there was strong support for the idea of “Covid-safer” events or performances to be held, as some theatres have maintained in recent months as official restrictions have eased. More than 81 per cent said they would consider going to designated performances in theatres and concert halls, with limited crowd capacities, additional ventilation and physical distancing among the most popular measures.

The research was carried out among a “cultural panel” of Scots from across the country who were regular attendees at cultural events before the pandemic.

The two-week survey was conducted last month, following the Scottish Government’s decision to lift the legal requirement to wear face coverings in most indoor spaces, including concert halls and theatres.

Around 44 per cent of respondents said they were planning to attend a live music event, while one in three were planning a future theatre trip.

Research carried out on behalf of national arts agency Creative Scotland earlier this year found that more than half of the Scottish population were still worried about the potential heath impacts of Covid.

One in five of those surveyed in February said they were planning to avoid certain events for the foreseeable future.

Scotinform’s report states: “The signs of post-Covid return are cautiously positive.

“Nearly all respondents have plans to undertake cultural activity in the coming year, although there is variation across sectors: theatre and music concerts appear to be more concerning.

“Respondents are largely comfortable returning to cultural spaces, although there is a sizeable cohort that remains cautious. ‘Covid-safe’ sessions might be an opportunity to include and re-engage this audience.

“There is continued evidence that the economic impact of a cultural visit in 2022 will be lower than in 2019 due to a desire to avoid multiple locations and large parties.

“Further, even this enthusiastic and engaged audience is anticipating a decline in cultural consumption as a result of the cost of living crisis.

“This is likely to pose a significant challenge to the sector even as it starts to recover from the pandemic.”

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “The culture and creative sectors have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic.

“Independent research, commissioned by Creative Scotland, also identified issues affecting cultural participation, including the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and the rising cost of living.

“Vital funding from the Scottish Government and the National Lottery has offered creative freelancers and cultural organisations some stability during these turbulent times, helping to protect jobs and livelihoods across the sector.

“We continue to work with the Scottish Government, the National Lottery and partners in the culture sector to do everything possible to help support culture in Scotland through this extremely difficult time.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government agency EventScotland said: “Scotland is one of the best places in the world to experience events and after the challenges of the last two years it is encouraging to see audience confidence in attending live events continuing to grow.

“The current economic situation brings a fresh challenge to the events industry and we continue to work closely with the event sector to support them.”