by Riccardo Trono
A Horsforth stage lighting company has described the government’s arts funding package as “a safety net full of holes” after its application for a COVID-19 grant was rejected.
ZigZag Lighting Ltd supplies stage lighting for live music, universities, schools and theatres nationwide and abroad, and has a small number of employees on payroll but is largely reliant on freelancers.
The company has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the full-scale lockdown, local restrictions and a lack of live events.
Earlier on in the Spring, it was able to access several tiers of financial support including the furlough scheme and the rate holiday.
The company’s owner, Neil Hunt, said: “However, we borrowed business support to get through the six-month period and it is now going to be one year.
“Businesses can barely stay afloat with these restrictions on their income”.
In July the government launched a £1.57 billion package to protect the arts and announced plans to resume live performances with limited audiences and social distancing.
Since then things have changed dramatically, with one third of the country currently under local restrictions.
“No one is taking the risk of organising anything anywhere in case that area, too, goes into lockdown,” Neil said. “Because of Covid, you cannot insure an event against cancellation.”
After applying for the government package, he criticised what he deemed a “safety net with too many holes”.
He highlighted the way in which cultural values are prioritised over economic considerations.
“We support culture, we do not deliver it. We should be measured on our economic impact. All our jobs are extremely viable once switched on and live music can make a huge financial contribution to the economy.”
Neil pointed out how last year the company delivered the lighting for 300 concerts and ten festivals, amounting to a possible £40 million contribution to the economy.
Conservative City Councillor representing Horsforth Jonathon Taylor told Yorkshire Voice that the government intervention had been “unprecedented” – although he acknowledged that the initial six-month support phase was now coming to an end.
“Money should be put as soon as possible into these companies so they can continue to trade through the restrictions.
“The entire sector needs support. This industry is vital to our economy.
“We have some of the best musicians, but these people would be in the dark without stage lighting, they would not be heard without sound. The £1.5 billion issued by the government demonstrate that their eyes are set on this,” he said.
Members of the Labour Party John Garvani, Raymond Jones and David Prater, who is also an amateur musician, observed that the music sector needed the same support other sectors are receiving.
“I don’t believe it’s because our music sector is not viable, it has been the envy of the world for decades,” Mr Prater pointed out, adding that the restrictions on weddings had also affected musicians’ income.
Mr Garvani commented: “The government tried to be exact on who can apply to this money, but it looks like it is not taking into account the various nuances within the sector. It needs to be able to cover all the bases at the bottom level.”