What’s in the 2021 Budget for museums and heritage attractions?

Image: Rishi Sunak © Parliament (CC-BY 3.0)

The chancellor has unveiled his latest plans to prop up the economy as the pandemic continues to ravage public finances. But what provision has been made for the nation’s ailing museums and heritage attractions?

When Rishi Sunak MP last took to the despatch box to deliver an annual budget, life in the UK was unrecognisable. Lockdown, furlough and the Culture Recovery Fund meant nothing to museums professionals the length and breadth of Britain.

It’s been a very long twelve months.

Economic extensions

Today, the chancellor has revealed an extra £300 million will be made available via the Culture Recovery Fund. England’s museums and cultural organisations will additionally be eligible for around £90 million in support ringfenced for the challenges posed before reopening is permitted in May.

£77 million has been allotted for similar funding initiatives in the devolved nations.

Earlier today, Jenny Waldman, director of Art Fund, heralded these steps as “very welcome extra funding for the arts”, adding it was “great to see them [the government] listening and responding to what museums need”.

© HM Treasury/Twitter

The reduced 5% rate of VAT is one of the pandemic measures to be extended. This will now remain until 30th September, with a subsequent interim rate of 12.5% in place for the six months to April 2022.

Extending what he labelled “one of the most generous schemes in the world”, Sunak announced the furlough scheme would now remain active until September. This support will continue to provide workers 80% of their salary for the hours they are unable to work, capped at £2,500 each month.

Once businesses reopen they will be expected to contribute 10% of this figure until the end of July, with 20% required in August and September.

© HM Treasury/Twitter

The Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) has also been extended to include many who became self-employed in 2019-20.

Those eligible can apply for a fourth SEISS grant to cover February through to April, worth 80% of average trading profits up to £7,500. A fifth and final grant will then be available from July.

Once again, however, the picture remains unclear for many self-employed workers in the culture sector. While it has been announced that around 600,000 more self-employed people may be newly eligible for SEISS support, this doesn’t mean everyone reliant on this type of income will benefit.

To be eligible, self-employed people must have submitted their tax return by the already passed deadline of midnight last night.

Prior to today’s Budget, Institute for Fiscal Studies research suggested the previous arrangement had left 18% of people who rely predominantly on self-employed work to live without access to state help.

Sir Keir Starmer MP, the leader of the opposition, said today’s announcement would still see “millions left out in the cold”.

© HM Treasury/Twitter

Other areas where the museums sector could benefit include traineeships, which the government is pledging £126 million to as it seeks to mitigate the youth unemployment crisis.

Organisations taking on trainees between the 1st April and 30th September 2021 will receive £3,000 per individual, and apprentices will be able to work for various employers across any given sector – meaning museums may be able to collaborate in offering training programmes.

More to follow.