Covid-19 Certification Consultation – Submission


Briefing · Tags:

What Next? believes that the introduction of Covid-19 certification would have a significant impact on the cultural sector and could impact on our ability to deliver for years to come. Individuals could potentially have to use digital certification to join the workforce, or to participate in, or be an audience for culture. There are no timescales included in the Review, and so these mechanisms could be in place for several years.

The arts and cultural sector is not uniform. For every large building that relies on ticket sales, there is a small community project that works with people for whom a digital certification would be a barrier to their engagement. The economic ecology includes a mix of commercial, philanthropic and public funding in different quantities for different organisations. Similarly, the ‘re-opening’ narrative does not fit everyone, as many providers have continued working through Covid-19 (see appendix 1).

This is a complex issue which does not lend itself to a binary or unified position; what will enable one organisation will actively, negatively affect another. It is essential that those making the decisions on ways forward hear the nuanced views of our sector and understand the different and competing demands of different arts and cultural organisations and individuals: looking through an equality, rights and ethical lens as much as the critical economic one.

The economic need of many in the cultural and creative industries is not in dispute. It has been well documented, and many venues have made, and continue to make staff redundancies and reductions to their offer, which make a return to their previous operating models look extremely uncertain.

This economic lens cannot be under-weighted in making plans for the future. It concerns the return to work to the 40% of the sector which has been made redundant, and to the thousands of freelancers who have lost or reduced livelihoods as a result of COVID-19.

We believe that there is strong evidence that an economic recovery supported solely by certification, and without other measures, would be at the cost of the diversity of audiences, workforce and participants, and diversity of the arts and cultural content that is created.

We have heard strong evidence that the impact on diversity would significantly prevent organisations from delivering effectively against their charitable missions, and against their funding conditions: from trusts and foundations, from local authorities, from Arts Council England and other Arms-Length Bodies, and from their recent Cultural Recovery Fund grants. It would impact on their ability to deliver against community wellbeing and cultural strategies and to the Arts Council’s forthcoming Let’s Create strategy. Those organisations which are charities could find themselves in contravention of their agreements with the Charity Commission.

We believe that there is an opportunity within this consultation, and more widely, for the government and the cultural sector to reframe the questions that are being asked of us, and to ask: ‘What resources, tools and approaches do we need to deliver sustainable, equitable, inclusive arts and culture over the next year?’.

We believe that the structure of this certification consultation risks reducing the complex decisions and processes that will be required to the introduction of a single measure.

The cultural sector’s transition through and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic must be rooted in our duty of care: to our workforce, to our audiences and participants and to our wider communities. The sole introduction of certification does not reflect the critical need to build trust and relationships at every stage of that transition: whether it is reopening a building, reconvening a youth group, or delivering a festival. To build trust we must collectively acknowledge our shared and different experiences of the last year, and slowly re-engage with one another: recognising that some of our practices will be irreversibly changed – and sometimes for the better. This inclusive approach will have potential costs; from supporting the mental health of staff, to hiring clinical colleagues to administer regular tests.

Over the last year, many people have expressed their intention and their belief in ‘building back better’. They have publicly acknowledged systemic inequality, and the barriers that exist for many individuals in society in accessing the arts and culture. We believe that this intention will be actively undermined if certification is the sole mechanism used to transition through Covid-19.

The 7 Inclusive Principles document gives cultural organisations and individuals the tools to approach Covid-19 recovery and delivery through the lens of Disability and relevant Equality Legislation and supports the industry to make decisions inclusively, to go beyond compliance and celebrate diversity. These principles should be central to any Covid-19 transition strategy and apply in all possible future contexts.

Evidence from our sector academics at Indigo Ltd and The Audience Agency clearly shows that certification is not the key to an immediate return to ‘full houses’ in the next few months. Instead, we will need to follow the strategies above, and this may mean that the cultural sector continues to need to be economically supported for a short period. We believe that a relatively small further investment now will protect and build on that which has already supported the sector through the pandemic, and will, in the longer term, support a much more effective financial recovery.

What we want:

  • It is essential that government and any cultural organisations understand their responsibilities under the Equality Act. We are calling for evidence of transparent and clear ethical oversight from government and our sector on these issues: Equality Impact Assessment. We want Equality Impact Assessment to be mandatory for anyone putting certification in place, and for this to have taken place as part of the Review.
  • As is articulated in the ethical consideration section of this paper, this policy represents a ‘rights paradox’; where upholding the rights of one group will actively remove them from another. If certification was introduced, every organisation must articulate what they are actively doing to support equality of access for the group that they are excluding.
  • A slow, financially-supported, considered recovery for our sector – based on care, people, place and community. This should be built around questions of inclusion: ‘How can we open safely and inclusively for everyone?’

FINAL What Next- COVID 19 Certfication Consultation 290321

Date added: 24 Mar 2021