Published on: 31 July 2020 in Industry

COVID-19 Update for Directors UK Members: Friday 31 July

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The last week has seen some encouraging developments as our industry addresses the severe impact of COVID-19, and has also highlighted some areas where further action is still desperately needed. Read our full update for members below.

DCMS announces Film and TV Production Restart Scheme

This week the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced a £500million scheme to “kickstart film and television production struggling to secure insurance for Covid-related costs”. Directors UK, along with Pact, the BFI and the other industry representatives that make up the BFI’s Screen Sector Task Force, have been lobbying the Government to provide support for UK productions struggling to get coronavirus-related insurance. Without proper coverage, the risk of returning to production in the face of future COVID-19 related complications was threatening to hold up the restart of many productions. 

We’re pleased that the Government has listened to our concerns, and has responded by offering a package which should give productions the confidence that they will be supported if future losses are incurred due to COVID-19, and open up work for cast and crew. The Government have said that the funding will be available to all productions made by companies where at least half of the production budget is spent in the UK, and the funding is estimated to cover more than 70% of the film and TV production market to the end of the year. 

At present, it has been announced that the scheme will be available to compensate productions after they have restarted, and only where costs are then incurred due to delays or abandonment as a result of Coronavirus. We also know that there will be a cap on claims per production of £5m, and that productions will need to provide evidence that they cannot return to work because of a lack of insurance. You can find out more about the Film & TV Production Restart Scheme here.

Further details on the eligibility process and claims system will be provided by the Government in the coming weeks, and we will of course be keeping our members up to date with the latest on this issue.

A disappointing response from the Chancellor to the Treasury Committee

On Thursday 23 July, the Treasury Committee published the Chancellor’s response to their interim report on the impact of COVID-19, in which the Chancellor reaffirmed his position that there will be no further amends to the Government support schemes, leaving millions of freelancers unsupported. 

Mel Stride MP, Chair of the Treasury Committee, pushed back on this saying: “The Chancellor has effectively drawn a line under helping the million-plus people who have been excluded from support for four months. Despite stating that he will not pick winners and losers when it comes to sectors and businesses that need support, the Chancellor has done this when it comes to households and individuals. The Chancellor said that the schemes were designed to be open and accessible to as many people as possible, but the Committee remains to be convinced that more people could not have been helped. 

The Chancellor initially told those at risk of losing their livelihoods that they would not be forgotten. While the Government is clear that it is moving on to the next phase of its recovery plan, it cannot just turn its back on those who are suffering. The Committee urges the Government to re-think its position.”

DCMS committee publishes damning report on the impact of COVID on the sector

On the same day, the DCMS committee published its damning report on the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, which also highlights the lack of support for freelancers, and the delays in getting adequate support to the creative sector. The report states:

“The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme have been a lifeline for all those in the creative industries who have been eligible for them. However, the closure of the schemes in October and the fact too many self-employed people have missed out on support to date, means the future of our creative workforce remains at significant risk. From October 2020 at the latest, the Government should introduce flexible, sector specific versions of the CJRS and SEISS guaranteed for the creative industries until their work and income returns to sustainable levels. Any such measures should account for the differences in timeframes for the easing of Covid-19 restrictions across the four nations. Support for the self-employed, in particular, should be urgently reviewed and amended so that it covers people who have been excluded to date. The Treasury Committee’s report, ‘Economic impact of coronavirus: Gaps in support’, proposed practical solutions for how this might be achieved, which we endorse.” Read the full report. 

We were particularly pleased to see that the DCMS committee report has recommended that the “DCMS forms a Creators Council as a mechanism for better dialogue with the creative workforce to understand its needs and viewpoints as we emerge from this crisis”. This is a proposal that Directors UK, alongside ALCS and other creative rights organisations, have been jointly calling for over the last 18 months, and was included in our individual and joint submissions to the DCMS committee inquiry. We believe this will provide a way for the Government to hear directly from those representing creative workers, and this will better inform and assist policymaking during and beyond the current crisis. We will continue to push for this to be established.

BEIS committee calls on Government to learn from gaps in worker and business support

On Monday 27 July, the Chair of the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS) committee Darren Jones MP, wrote to Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for BEIS, outlining the committee’s findings from their inquiry into the Impact of Coronavirus on Businesses and Workers

Their first point focussed on the gaps in support for workers during the pandemic, reflecting the key issues affecting self-employed freelancers, which Directors UK has been raising. They specifically ask the Government to respond to them about the lessons that have been learned from these gaps. They also recommend that the Government review the status of workers, and how they are categorised by HMRC, so that there will not be similarly excluded workers in the future. 

Like the Treasury, DCMS and BEIS committees, we don’t believe the Chancellor’s position on unsupported workers should go unchallenged. We will be reviewing all of the Committee inquiry responses in more detail, and are considering how to support further action on behalf of unsupported freelance and self-employed creative workers.

ExcludedUK APPG continues to make itself heard

Meanwhile, the newly formed All-Party Parliamentary Group on behalf of ExcludedUK continues to make noise both in Government and on social media. Over 240 MPs have joined the APPG with many directly lobbying Government to address the gaps in government support for self-employed workers. Last week 100 MPs signed an open letter to the Chancellor setting out their recommendations and asking him to meet them to discuss potential solutions. 

BBC Announces Support for over 600 PAYE freelancers

This week the BBC announced a package to support the earnings of over 600 PAYE freelancers who work for the public service part of the BBC on PAYE contracts and have lost work due to the pandemic. The BBC previously claimed that it could not access the furlough scheme for these workers as they were accessing public funds and that was not allowed under the rules of the scheme. Following pressure from the unions and industry, the BBC has now agreed that freelancers who had worked with the BBC every month over the period September 2019 – February 2020 will be paid. The BBC will mirror the furlough scheme and pay average earnings capped at £2,500 for March, April and May (calculated over the 12 months prior to COVID). Reports suggest about 600 people qualify, and we understand the BBC will be contacting those who are eligible. 

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme – Second Application Date: Monday 17 August

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be opening for applications for the second grant from Monday 17 August. If you were eligible for the first grant, and can confirm to HMRC that you or your business has been adversely affected on or after 14 July 2020, you’ll be able to make a claim for a second and final grant. You can make a claim for the second grant if you’re eligible, even if you did not make a claim for the first grant. This second and final taxable grant is worth 70% of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months’ worth of profits, and capped at £6,570 in total. As with the first grant, HMRC will contact you if you’re eligible. Find out more here. 

We will continue to fight for proper support and a safe return to production for directors, and will update our members with the latest developments as they come. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at [email protected].

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