Association of British Orchestras

ABO calls on Chancellor Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP for sector support following ACE 2023/26 NPO announcement

Ahead of this week’s forthcoming Autumn Statement, and following Arts Council England’s (ACE) recent decision to disinvest in some classical music organisations, the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) has today called on Chancellor Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP to put in place the measures needed to support the UK’s thriving, diverse and innovative orchestral sector.

Against a backdrop of record rates of inflation, the energy and cost-of-living crisis and income sources which are yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, the ABO has urged UK Government to extend the temporary 50% uplifted Orchestra Tax Relief (OTR) rate, which is currently due to reduce to 35% from 1 April 2023 and return to 25% on 1 April 2024, by another year at least. The uplifted 50% OTR rate is proving crucial in making projects viable, driving higher rates of activity and employment in the sector than would otherwise have been possible.

ABO CEO Judith Webster said: “We have acknowledged the difficult decisions that have been made in ACE’s National Portfolio 2023-26. We welcome in particular the investment in youth ensembles and the inclusion of a more diverse range of organisations including Orchestras for All, Manchester Collective, Chineke!, Black Lives in Music, National Children’s Orchestras and Awards for Young Musicians, all of whom are doing inspiring work in widening access to culture across the country. However, whilst welcoming the continued investment in the UK’s classical music sector we are also deeply concerned by the impact of the removal from the funded portfolio for some organisations, and significantly reduced funding for others. We are particularly concerned with our members working in opera and contemporary music, where the biggest funding reductions have fallen. Continued support for our sector is particularly needed at a time when orchestras are still in the early stages of recovery, rebuilding the confidence of live audiences and dealing with the headwinds from the cost-of-living crisis and Brexit. An extension to the 50% rate is the critical measure which will allow UK orchestras to rebuild income streams and plan confidently for the future.”

The UK orchestral sector has proven itself to be a national and global success story, growing its audiences and playing live annually to over 4 million people across the UK, engaging with 700,000 participants in education and community programmes, while driving UK economic growth and harnessing its public investment to perform more international concerts and reach new corners of the globe both live and online.

This success was recognised by the UK Government’s decision to provide support to so many of the ABO’s members in response to the Covid-19 pandemic through the Cultural Recovery Fund, in order to protect the nation’s “cultural crown jewels”. The Department for Education’s refreshed National Plan for Music Education has also recognised the vital role played by orchestras in forging partnerships with schools and music services. This is in addition to the pioneering work orchestras undertake in healthcare and in communities, increasing opportunities for those with the least access to the arts.

The ABO will continue to offer our support to those members who have been removed from the Portfolio and those who have had their funding reduced during this period of transition. We urge the Chancellor to extend the 50% OTR rate to help support the UK’s celebrated orchestral sector build future resilience and sustainability during these unprecedented and challenging times.

Annual Conference

The next ABO conference will take place in Bristol,
hosted by Bristol Beacon, from 24-26 January 2024.