The effect of new Immigration policies on the entertainment industry introduced by the Conservative Government will be significant to the live entertainment industry and it will take considerable resources and ingenuity to sort out the challenges that lie ahead of us. Time to review and rethink!
Let’s take this step by step and explore how these Immigration policies owill effect the entertainment industry The first step is to acknowledge the connectivity in the live entertainment industry. Specialists, freelancers, crew and suppliers often work across the spectrum of events including theatre, music, festivals, arts events, sporting events and so on. From The Gielgud to Goodwood and The Barbican to The Belfry, we are all connected in unexpected and perverse ways. The mixed portfolio is drawn together by one common word and that is ‘Live’. To think that a problem somewhere else in the live events sector can’t possibly affect you is a misplaced assumption. The dependencies that are involved in putting on a show are critical and whatever anybody says, the show will start at the time it says on the ticket. In our industry, we take this for granted, but it may soon involve a few more checks and balances to ensure that we hit our deadlines. It will most certainly involve a big investment across the industry to secure what we do for a living.
The second step – and a simple fact is that new criteria will apply to low skilled workers from overseas. Specific criteria will apply to those wishing to come to work here with salaries over £25,600 where they will have to have a job offer from a pre-approved sponsor company. If you have ever entered into the realms of Home Office tiered visas, you will be wincing by now! Here is a simple question: How many people in the live entertainment industry earn less than £25,600? How many of these people are not British or settled citizens? The new immigration rules discriminate against self employed and freelance workers and when you consider that 47% of people working in the creative industries fall into that category, we really must be heading towards a self-inflicted problem of some magnitude. For every ’non skilled’ worker who returns to their own country, (they are going home faster than we would like to acknowledge), they are obviously going to have to be replaced by a ‘low skilled’ UK citizen or citizen with settled status. Our industry thrives with a lot of highly skilled but relatively low paid workers. Sadly, the new immigration policy is unable to acknowledge that an individual can be skilled yet paid below £25,6000.
Now put those two steps together. Over the past 20 years, the live entertainment sector has grown enormously. The number of festivals has grown and if you can’t find the labour to build the stage, you haven’t got a concert. If you haven’t got a concert, the audio and lighting technicians haven’t got a job. If the audio rental company supplies both concerts and theatre, they begin to see a business threat and it then affects theatre. What happens at Glastonbury can easily have a knock on effect at The Gielgud. When you start to consider the staging and structures sector as well as the broader crewing sectors and a whole load more, it becomes thought provoking. You can’t stage a show in a structure for a corporate dinner if there are no event catering staff available to serve the food! Policy has not been thought through but we will simply have to pick up the pieces.
The fundamental issue is one of supply and demand. Do the changes to the immigration regime represent a threat where demand increasingly outstrips supply? Our industry seems to be working at or near capacity with many specialists, suppliers, freelancers and crew in a position where they simply can not take on any more work. There is an obvious risk of inflationary pressure, which is probably unavoidable now. There is also a distinct risk that some events might be cancelled because there are insufficient goods and services available at the required time to guarantee delivery. There is also a risk that unqualified and inexperienced operators will undercut and underdeliver with reputational damage to the industry in general.
It all sounds a bit gloomy but the industry defines us as solution providers. We need to find a solution to this threat. The Government says that we have to look closer at the existing UK labour force (as if we haven’t!). Of course we will, but the reliance on short term labour will have to change. We will have to train up a UK workforce and more importantly, we will have to retain them. One problem that the government doesn’t seem to recognise is the concept of mobilisation. The lead time offered to everyone is from February 19th 2020 to January 1st 2021. Ten Months! Quite what we are expected to do within this timeframe beggars belief.
We are about to enter a period where investment in people has to accelerate hard. It will add inflationary pressure to the industry but in the end, we are going to have to accept that the voters of this country have decided that it should be this way. Agree or disagree, we have to get on with it.
We will be holding a discussion session at the ABTT Theatre Show where the purpose will be to exchange experiences and solutions about immigration policies in the entertainment industry.