The Association of British Orchestras (ABO) has called on the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to put in place the measures needed to support the UK’s thriving, diverse and innovative orchestral sector.

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The request comes ahead of this week’s forthcoming Autumn Statement – and in the wake of Arts Council England’s (ACE) recent decision to withdraw funding from some classical music organisations.

Within a context of record inflation, a cost-of-living crisis, and income sources yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, the ABO has urged the 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 managed to grow its audiences and has played live annually to over 4 million people across the nation, engaging with 700,000 participants in education and community programmes.

This success was recognised by the Government’s decision to support many ABO members through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cultural Recovery Fund was devised to protect the nation’s 'cultural crown jewels'. Elsewhere, a new National Plan for Music Education has recognised the vital role played by orchestras in forging partnerships with schools and music services. Orchestras such as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and many others have also undertaken pioneering work in healthcare and 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,' Judith Webster continues. '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.'

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Pic: Getty Images

Authors

Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.