ALCS response to autumn budget and spending review

The Budget and Spending Review, announced on 27 October, provides a welcome boost to the recovery package for cultural institutions and the high street. But it does not go far enough in supporting writers, says ALCS.

ALCS recognises the important economic and social value that small businesses, such as high street bookshops, provide to their local communities and the vital role they play in supporting a healthy book market (as we highlighted in our Treasury submission).

We are pleased, therefore, at the announcement of a “Modern business rates system” which we called for, and which will go a long way towards supporting the general recovery of the high street. Moreover, we are encouraged by the provisions set out by the Chancellor to provide a temporary business rates relief of a minimum of 50% for 2022-23, which will aid small businesses in the short term to further recover from the pandemic.

We hope these reforms to business rates will help bookshops across the country, which are vital in ensuring a diverse range of books is published and bought by the public. Currently they stand at an unsustainable disadvantage to online retailers who pay substantially less in business rates and corporation tax. We will consult with the Government further over the Treasury’s exploration of arguments for and against a UK-wide Online Sales Tax, which would further help to even the playing field between high street and online retailers.

We also welcome the announcement of a further £850 million in restoration and upgrade funding for UK cultural institutions such as theatres and galleries. We recognise the value these buildings hold to communities and the need for investment in cultural venues around the country.

Regrettably, this type of institutional funding has failed to make it to authors in a meaningful way in the past as little has been specifically been allocated to literature. We have seen how such recovery packages, in most instances, do not reach creative freelancers in this field and are disappointed that no measures were announced to support such a vital aspect of our creative and cultural sector during this time of recovery.

However, we are encouraged to learn that part of the proposed funding will go to libraries across the UK which can now apply to a communal pot of £110 million to receive grants. In ALCS’s spending review submission, we highlighted the importance of libraries and the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme, which remunerates authors for loans of their books and provides valuable support for writers.

It is disappointing that the Treasury has not responded to our repeated calls to increase the overall pot for PLR as it would have been a simple and targeted way to help writers during a time when their incomes have suffered greatly. According to surveys conducted by the Society of Authors, 65% of writers had lost income during the first half of the pandemic, a situation which has continued since. The ‘portfolio’ nature of authors’ careers has made them particularly vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19. It is important for the Government to show its support to this vital part of the creative workforce, which contributes so much to the cultural output of the UK.

The overall UK PLR fund has been frozen for many years and now stands at half the level of the funds in countries such as Germany and France. ALCS had hoped the Treasury would acknowledge that an overall increase to PLR would be a perfect opportunity to support the work of UK authors.

Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of ALCS, commented:

“We are delighted to see our calls to support high street bookshops through a change to business rates have been accepted by the Treasury in the form of a temporary relief of a minimum of 50% for 2022-23, this will aid small businesses in the short term to further recover from the pandemic. Bookshops are vital in supporting a healthy supply chain in the book market, so we are pleased at the announcement of a “Modern business rates system” which will be in keeping with the Government’s initiative to level-up and support high street revival across the UK.

We are disappointed however that targeted and effective support for writers, such as an increase to the overall PLR fund, have not been introduced today. From playwrights to academics to novelists, authors contribute right across the creative and cultural sectors,. We hoped the Treasury would acknowledge the contributions made by our members to the successful creative economy, both domestically and internationally, but will carry on engaging with the Government on these issues.”