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‘Extreme’ Social Distancing Rules Risk ‘Irreparably Damaging’ Scotland’s Arts Sector - Perthshire Chamber of Commerce

‘Extreme’ Social Distancing Rules Risk ‘Irreparably Damaging’ Scotland’s Arts Sector

4 May 2021

Perth Concert Hall.


•           Perth Concert Hall warns of knock-on impact to night-time economy as UK promoters cut Scotland from tours

•           Current guidelines allow the Perth venue to open at only 16% of capacity, holding back city centre recovery

•           Arts charity says "curtains are going up in England, but doors to Scotland's venues are firmly shut"

•           Chamber of Commerce backs calls for clear roadmap for arts sector to help support local businesses

•           Calls for test events in Scotland and data from pilots in England to inform easing of restrictions

Scotland's performing arts venues and the towns and cities they support risk being irreparably damaged as the country remains without a viable roadmap for reopening while the sector in England is set to see social distancing scrapped from 21 June, a major arts charity warned today.

Venues north of the Border already face far stricter social distancing requirements than in England - and the disparity is set to get worse as the Prime Minister confirmed that there is a "good chance" the one-metre plus social distancing rule will be scrapped in England next month.

Horsecross Arts, the charity behind Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre, has warned that the "extreme" social distancing rules north of the Border are seeing Scottish venues being cut from UK promoters' tours, leaving a huge hole in their programming and finances.

Perth Concert Hall is currently permitted to open at only 16% of its 1,200 customer capacity. It says the issue also risks stalling economic recovery in towns and cities across the country, further undermining the night-time economy which has been closed for most of the past year due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Perthshire Chamber of Commerce is backing calls for a clear and urgent roadmap for the arts sector to help support local businesses.

Horsecross Arts is also supporting calls for test events in Scotland and data from pilots in England to inform an easing of social distancing restrictions.

Nick Williams, Chief Executive of Horsecross Arts, said:

"Curtains are going up in England, but doors to Scotland's important arts venues are firmly shut. That risks irreparably damaging not just the arts sector in Scotland, but the towns, cities and thousands of local businesses that venues help support.

“We have robust COVID-19 procedures in place for the protection of audiences, performers and staff. Concert halls are generally well ventilated with good airflow systems, high ceilings and spacious interiors. Audiences sit side by side all facing in the same direction for a limited period and can be asked to wear masks. We find ourselves in a situation where customers could be sitting at 1m distance from other households in our café without masks, then have to move to 2.5m distancing with masks as they enter the auditorium.

“As a sector, we feel that our responses and needs are being ignored despite communicating openly and proactively with the Scottish Government to establish reasonable measures to help us operate in these extremely challenging times. There also appears to be no interest from the Scottish Government in running test events unlike in England and Europe, or indeed take information learnt from these test events and apply it here.”

Vicki Unite, Chief Executive of Perthshire Chamber of Commerce, said:

“Perth’s cultural attractions, particularly major venues such as the Concert Hall, are the heartbeat of the city. They are absolutely critical to our night-time economy and the wider prosperity of the region.

“As well as being important businesses in their own right, they help generate vital customers and support jobs in our restaurants, pubs and other parts of the hospitality sector.

“Huge investment has been made by our businesses to make them Covid-secure and we have some of Scotland’s best cultural attractions in our region.  They are critical to our recovery from the pandemic and we can’t afford to see them put at a disadvantage compared to those in England.”

Nick Williams continued:

“Touring shows are the commercial lifeblood for most concert halls, but with many of these tours originating south of the border, venues are already seeing promoters lose confidence in presenting shows in Scotland. Scottish artists are also not able to make their shows viable. It sends the message that Scotland is closed.

“If we don’t gain clarity from the Scottish Government in the next few weeks, we know that promoters will withdraw their tours from the autumn programme, and only present them in England and Wales where they are viable. Worse, we have to take decisions in June about our Christmas plans and, at present, we have no hope of presenting our traditional panto and range of classical, rock and traditional Scottish music concerts as we’ll have no lead time to make that happen.   

“Venues like Perth Concert Hall are key to the night-time economy, particularly outwith the central belt. The city relies on its cultural offering to bring people into the centre. If the current guidelines remain in place, and if there is no further Scottish Government financial support, we will be even more challenged to survive. We wholeheartedly support the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland’s legal challenge to capacity restrictions and curbs on opening hours. The Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre team went through a devastating redundancy process last summer, and if we are forced to continue under current guidelines then further job losses may well follow. And we’re not alone. We are looking at the potential collapse of the entire Scottish performing arts sector for the second time in 12 months when we should be focusing on reopening, rebuilding and bringing people back to live performances.”

Perth Concert Hall is working with BBC Radio 3 to present a week of Lunchtime Concerts at the end of May and hopes, if Tier 2 restrictions are in place at that point, to open the concerts to live audiences. The charity is planning to invite politicians, civil servants and clinicians to one of the concerts to see the impact of the restrictions for themselves.

Article written by Rebecca Baird of The Courier


The table below illustrates that although permitted audience numbers increase under the different levels, the 2m distancing that continues to apply limits the capacity to 16% in both Horsecross Arts venues through all levels.


Indoor performance restrictions

Perth Concert Hall capacity*


Perth Theatre capacity*


Level 2

2m distancing 100 max





Level 1

2m distancing 200 max





Level 0

2m distancing 400 max












*Based on mixed social bubbles

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